The story of how I went from being that person in the yoga studio who couldn’t touch his toes, to being the yoga teacher in the yoga studio who still can’t touch his toes.
Something happens when you tell people that you are a yoga teacher.
People tell you one of two things: 1) what they can’t do and/or 2) the person they are not. You may have heard (or even said) some of the following classic lines:
“I can’t touch my toes; I’m not meant for yoga.”
“I’m not flexible.”
“I can’t meditate.”
“I’m not good at yoga; I can’t sit still.”
“I can’t even do a push-up, let alone yoga; I’m never doing the poses right.”
It is such an odd experience to have people tell you what they are not. When we meet new people, we never ask them to tell us what they can’t do – we usually ask them what they do for a living or where they are from, seeking an affirmative response. I have never answered those two questions with negative responses.
Maybe I’ll try it for fun: I’m not a biomechanical engineer and I’m not from Vancouver.
Feels odd, eh? It seems far more interesting to learn what people are, rather than what they are not.
However, I’m going to steal a page from that book and confess something to you, in the hopes of speaking to those who feel burdened by the thought of doing yoga:
I am a yoga teacher, but I am not flexible.
Seriously. You ask me to sit on my bum with my legs stretched out in front of me, and you’ll notice I’m only just capable of sitting upright. Splits? Heck no. However, if you mean a banana split, then I’m your guy. I’m a yoga ice cream master. But, bend over and touch my toes? My hands seem to prefer my shins. Well, not that I blame them… my shins are pretty awesome.
Yes, my friends, it’s true. Since we seem so interested in telling people what we can’t do, let me remind you of this: I can’t turn myself into a pretzel; I’m not able to hold a handstand for more than 10 seconds; and I can’t do downward dog with my legs perfectly straight.
Ta da! I’m flawed!
Why do I share this with you? I share this with you because if there is one only thing I want everyone to know about yoga, it’s that nothing on the outside should ever limit the power you have on the inside. Here’s the thing: I’m a lot closer to touching my toes than I was a year ago. And this has nothing to do with the simple idea of touching my toes. It’s because my physical practice only evolves as my mind evolves. By tapping into my willingness to explore limitless possibilities, my mind and my nervous system become more and more at peace each time I take to the mat. As this happens, my physical practice grows as a beautiful bi-product of this open heart and deep breath.
(Oh, the other thing I want everyone to know is that you have to: be a shirtless Instagram star, hold a headstand for 5 minutes, have a six-pack, wear Lululemon, and be a vegan.)
So, the next time you think you aren’t flexible enough for yoga, come to my class. I’ll show you inflexible. I’ll be right in the same boat as you, my sisters and brothers. Let’s go on this journey together, and it will be my honour to show you how I overcame my ego and my self-imposed limitations in order to go places I never knew I could go. Do things I never knew I could do. Be the person I always knew was inside.
Who you are and what you can do are not defined by your ability to put your leg over your head. Your beautiful soul is no less beautiful because of how you look in a pose like downward dog or pigeon. You have so much to offer the world, and yoga is simply an extension of your willingness to soften, to breathe, and to fall humbly into the limitlessness of what our hearts and minds can do.
I can’t wait to see you on the mat.
(P.S. If you want to go get ice cream after class, that would be awesome. You don’t have to touch your toes to eat ice cream!)
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Mark Wilkinson teaches yoga, talks to youth about bullying, speaks French, eats lots of food, sings Mozart, and is usually smiling and helping others do the same.