Better living through subtlety

 Last week Michele spoke to Martha, her ashtanga teacher, about coming to class with a pulled muscle, and Martha told her to come and do any amount of the practice that felt good to her. This is her letter to Martha after class. We think the insights are so important that we wanted to share them with you.

“It was beautiful to look over and see you taking care of yourself.”

Thank you for those words Monday night. The class was a positive experience for me on a number of levels. It gave me more perspective on how to modify different poses, which is so useful in helping students. I experienced firsthand that the practice is scaleable, or as you said “any amount.”

While I knew that it was possible to do any amount, I don’t think I knew that there was merit in doing any amount. At Urban Zen last Wednesday I was thinking about this. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone…the instructor kept saying “any amount” and actually at one point asked us to do less than we were doing. I’m so used to “you can do one more…better, faster, stronger…push! Fight through the pain!” I went home thinking about the “2% less” and dedicated the next day to subtlety. It was interesting and uncomfortable. All these thoughts kept coming up in opposition “but you’ll never improve this way” “what’s the point of being less than you can be?” “maybe that works for them, but it won’t work for me.” I kept thinking about it though…why would they do it if there isn’t some benefit? Turns out the “right” questions and the answers are much more subtle than this.

Your comment after class also gave me perspective on what it was that I was doing. It highlighted for me the conversations that had been playing through my mind, just under the surface -- the “not enough” tape, you’re not good enough, flexible enough, tough enough, whatever enough (if you don’t do all the poses as much, as far, as thoroughly as you can, and then add 2%.) I realize that the “not enough” tape is in direct opposition to the “any amount” maxim. Any amount is affirming, tolerant and non-judgemental; it is inclusive. Not enough is rigid, judgmental, prideful and serves to exclude (the can from the can nots).

I think a person with an “any amount” philosophy can see beauty where the “not enough” person sees failure. You saw my modifications as beautiful, whereas I was seeing them (on some level) as a personal failure, something to be embarrassed or ashamed of (I thought I’d dealt with all of this with my ankle injuries, but old habits die hard). Through your words, I realized that I was letting old patterns (“not enough”) skew the actuality of what was going on. I was being mindful, using some common sense and taking care of myself.

Monday’s class/your comments have also left me thinking a lot about what it all means in context of self-worth, of perceived value, and of vulnerability and strength. At its core, for me, I think the “not enough” perspective is a means of avoiding vulnerability and trying to never show/admit weakness. One of the reasons I do yoga is to get better at vulnerability -- more heart, less brain.

It seems I need a complete paradigm shift in order to fully comprehend “any amount.” I feel I’m moving in the right direction though, slow as it may be. Two weeks ago in a class, I was feeling competitive, and I thought of something in your Teacher Training manual “take each student into your heart,” and I did it right then in the class -- and wonderfully, my desire(?) to compete melted away…I just wanted to be with them, I wanted the best for all of us.

~Michele

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2 Responses to Better living through subtlety
  1. daphne

    Wow, Michele, what a transformation of heart!! Give yourself a huge pat on the back for this, you can help others do this and understand the depth of what it means to the future of your life.

    This is what I was referring to when I was speaking about our lives changing last night in class.
    I now understand what was behind your words of introduction referring to taking care of yourself.

    Old habits die hard, right? When I have a hard time I easily turn to self hate and I wonder why I want to wound myself and I work on this here and now. I love myself more, I try to come back to the breath and back into this moment and leave the messages of hate behind.

    It’s not easy.
    It takes courage to move forward, to heal and to love thyself.

    I feel like we are all in this program working on personal growth and self acceptance. It’s not so easy to be vulnerable and share it with one another but we all grow more when we share our journeys. It is a safe community.

    You are growing and healing and we are all here together and for each other.

    Thank you for allowing them to share this intensely personal experience; it is so helpful to hear others minds facing similar challenges and changing like mine.

  2. linda oshins

    What a truly thoughtful and insightful piece. Thank you!