Kino's Yogi Assignment Blog

Yoga Is Challenge Day 2- Strength

This is the story about a girl who  wanted to lift up. When she first started trying the impossible lift-ups in yoga, people told her not to bother trying. Your thighs are too big, they said. It’s only for gymnasts, they said. Only the strong dudes can do those lift ups, they said. That girl was me, over twenty years ago. There was something in my heart that was called to try. And try I did. Over and over again. I fell, failed, tumbled, toppled, and generally ate the dirt in more ways that I can remember. Since I’ve mostly practiced at home alone, I rarely had any help. Even my teachers would not often help me, but instead encourage me to keep trying on my own. I am here today because I failed more times than I can remember. But each time I picked myself up again with that much more strength, courage, humility, determination and faith. I learned how to believe in the impossible.

I am not naturally strong, neither physically nor emotionally. So many people assume that I was born with the capacity to do a handstand, put my legs behind my head or do deep backbends. Nope. Not even close. The first time I tried to balance in headstand I tumbled over so quickly that a loud thudding sound reverberated across the room. It took me a year to find the balance in headstand. Then, when I was learning the forearm balance, called Pinchamayurasana, it took me two full years of toppling over before I was able to balance. Handstand was the hardest. Five years of failure lead to my first moment in the air on my hands. 

There are people who say that you’re either born with it, or you’re not. I don’t believe it’s as absolute as that. Yes, it’s true that there are people born with natural abilities and talents. This is called being able-bodied and propagating a notion that yoga is best performed by those with natural talents, and perpetuates a kind of ableism that is frankly discouraging to most people. As a teacher, I’ve seen many students who are what you could call “naturals”. They are naturally strong or flexible. With little to no practice they can just do certain asanas that other people (like myself) will struggle with for years, decades or whole lifetimes. But I’ve also seen students with natural talent like this quit the practice after a few years or let their innate talents inflate their egos.

The students I find most inspiring are the ones who never give up on attempting the impossible. You never actually need to achieve the pose. Instead, the effort of trying will teach you a great deal about yourself and life. It did for me. While there are still some powerful lift-ups that I cannot do that newer practitioners of yoga can do, I enjoy the effort of trying. In fact, facing the failure of what I cannot do every day has been one of my greatest lessons in yoga. If I only stuck to what I’m good at, I’d be lying on the beach sipping coconuts. As a teacher of yoga, what I value most is the effort not the result, the learning that you take away from the mat, not the outer form. What yoga poses create the perfect environment for you to learn, those are your biggest teachers. Practice those. Be willing to fail. Over and over again. 

There is something magical about facing an impossible situation with a faithful, willing and perseverant heart. Krishnamacharya is quoted as saying yoga is the process of making the impossible possible, and, over a lifetime of practice, making the possible the easy and graceful. What this esteemed teacher of teachers is referring to is not only about asana, but about the state of being. Yoga is not only about asana-achievement. The students who excel in handstands and backbends often get elevated to as advanced yogis, but the reality is that yoga is an inner experience that cannot be measured form the outside. 

My lesson of strength has helped me off the mat, in my daily life in countless ways. I have always generally had low self-esteem. I never thought I was pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, thin enough. I have suffered from cyclical periods of depression since I was nine years old. As an adult I had debilitating panic attacks and periods of utter helplessness, hopelessness and suicidal ideation. If it weren’t for the practice of yoga, in all likelihood I would not be here today in the capacity that I am. Yoga is not a panacea, nor a replacement for treatment of mental health disorders. However, yoga can be a great compliment, or even a foundation upon which healing can take place. For me, failing in yoga taught me how to face my own failures, the deficits in my own mind and replace crippling doubt with the nascent seeds of faith. 

When I sent my first manuscript to book agents and publishers, over 100 turned me down. When I asked large production companies like Gaia and Sounds True if they wanted to work with me as a yoga teacher to film videos, they all turned me down. When my husband and I opened Miami Life Center, we faced an endless string of obstacles. When I pitched founding Omstars, as the world’s first online yoga TV channel (Netflix for Yogis), no large backers believed in my dream so I turned to kickstarter. Here I am today, and what you may see is success. But I encourage you to see my numerous failures, not just the peaks but the deep valleys. I am not here today because I got it all right. I am here today after years of ups and downs, still standing, teaching, practicing, working, dreaming, with a heart of joy, because I have been willing to pick myself back up countless times, shake the dust off and start again. 

Strength in yoga is about being willing to put in the work, whatever that work may be, no matter how long it takes. Strength in yoga is about faith, not blind faith, but the kind of faith born from experience that necessarily includes the determination and energy to keep working tirelessly to make whatever you dream of come true. Strength in yoga is about believing in your dreams, even if you’re the only one who does. 

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:”

Taken from “If—” by Rudyard Kipling

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