“My hamstrings are too tight.” “I have no upper body strength.” “I have no balance.” “I’m not flexible.” “I have no time in my busy day day to do yoga.” How many times have you heard yourself or someone else utter one of these in frustration before bailing out of a pose or as a reason not to do yoga. Yoga teachers hear them all the time: excuses. Excuses we make to give ourselves an out rather than trying a pose or persevering through a challenge. It’s easier to fall back on our excuses and abandon our resolve rather than summoning the focus needed to break through an obstacle.
Excuses. Everyone has one. Actually, everyone has many. Faced with the inability to do a pose, we come up with a million excuses. What we fail to realize is that we already have everything we need to do yoga. The only thing keeping us from progressing in our practice is ourselves. Obstacles, or antarayas, have a powerful ability to distract us from that single point of focus that yoga requires from us at every breath.
In the deep forward bend of uttanasana, dwelling on your tight hamstrings rather than focusing on the task at hand – the need for you to engage the arches of your feet, your ankles, your quadriceps and core and melt your upper back – will prevent you from going deep into that fold. The obstacle here is not just the tight hamstrings (remedied by engaging the antagonist muscles), but your stubborn belief that you are incapable of going deep into the forward bend.
This self-imposed doubt can debilitate your practice (not to mention cause you injury!). Doubt begins to erode your confidence and consumes your resolve. Before long you stop trying to do the pose. You find yourself on your knees looking at classmates attempting the pose or seeking refuge in balasana. There’s nothing wrong in going into Child’s Pose when you need it, but if you keep going back to that safe place rather than facing your challenges or fears, you will never progress – not in mind, spirit or body.
Have faith in yourself that you already have everything you need. Your hamstrings may not be ready to go into a deep uttanasana, but if you approach your practice with humility and faith (Isvara-pranidhana), your practice will take you where you should be at that moment. Maybe not where you wish you were, but where your body is safe and your mind at ease.
Surrender your excuses. Remember, the goal of yoga is not a fully mastered pose, but the result you get from the practice. Strengthened by a diligent practice, the tight hamstrings will, over time, come to trust the quadriceps and core and melt, allowing you to kiss your shins in that forward bend.
What breakthroughs – physical, emotional or spiritual – have you had in your practice simply by letting go of the excuses that got in the way?