Yesterday, I was watching an old documentary about Bob Fosse. He was an outstandingly amazing choreographer and dancer in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and his style was so unique and wonderful that it inspired many great performers. (I’ll provide some links for you to watch below).
What does this have to do with yoga?
Well, in my eyes, he was a genius not just because of the skills he had but because of the way he dealt with the skills he didn’t have.
In the documentary he mentions it – he wasn’t a good enough ballet dancer and didn’t have the turn out needed for ballet – so he just turned his feet in and developed his own style. One, that later inspired the whole world.
If he had conformed to the mainstream set of skills expected from him he would have either kept struggling to succeed in a world he didn’t feel like he could be good enough, or he would have given up altogether.
If it wasn’t for his weakness, his greatness wouldn’t have emerged.
It is a great example of how often it is our weaknesses and faults that make us acquainted with ourselves and our uniqueness.
It made me think of BKS Iyengar. He was born with ill health and struggled all of his life to do basic asana (which he was told to do by his brother in law Krishnamacharya, to strengthen his health). He was determined to practice them in the right way and to achieve success, he invented new methods that hadn’t been done before – using blocks, straps, ropes and other props. This method, which was born out of a weakness, is now famous as “Iyengar Yoga” all over the world and Iyengar himself will forever be known as the master of asana, a genius when it comes to working with physical weakness and turning it into strength.
In our yoga practice we get this opportunity over and over again. No matter how practiced we are, we will always find an obstacle. Maybe, even after years of practice, we still can’t sit in lotus, fold forward with a straight back or lift up into a backbend. So what to do? Give up? Say “Yoga isn’t working for me?”, or “This style of yoga isn’t working for me?”, and just do the postures we feel that we are good at? Or should we persist and keep pushing and pulling until we finally sit in lotus, just take the pain?
Whenever we reach a limit, a boundary, in order to extend it, something has to break. Either we can break up with the practice and stop doing yoga, or stop doing this style of yoga, or we can break our body and ruin our knees, for the momentary feeling of success to achieve lotus (or back ending or whatever else it is). Or we can break our ego and admit to ourselves that this is where our boundaries are. We can look at ourselves and see that, for whatever reason (old injuries, genetics…), this or that posture is, for now, not achievable for us. Then we have to think – what is it that my body needs in order to open safely? If lotus is not good for me, maybe Baddha Konasana is? Oh, but it’s not in the sequence I’ve learned… Well. Put it in. Make it part of your sequence. You feel that Purvotanasana helps open your shoulders? Do it more. Do it for longer. You feel that too many chaturangas hurt your shoulder? Stop doing them.
Each posture should be “Sthira Sukham Asanam” – steady and comfortable. So that you can be steady and comfortable in life, accepting who you are at any given moment. So that the balance in your body and mind is reinstated and there is less conflict in your physical and mental activities. So that your vision of life becomes clearer and the connection to your own soul (and also with others), stronger.
Slowly we will come to realise that all obstacles are just there to show us a different way and if we look at them like that, they are not really obstacles anymore. They dissolve, and we learn that often the problem is not that we don’t get what we want but that we don’t want what we can get.
Yoga isn’t just about postures, it’s about all of life.
Life is, in my opinion, all about experience – all experience, not just select, happy moments.
To experience – and appreciate – life fully, we need to shine a light on to all of our shadows and dark spots and unpleasant feelings, accept them and integrate them into our life in full awareness. Only then can we truly achieve balance within ourselves.
And after all this is the aim of yoga – to unite us with ourselves, with all the layers of our consciousness (and ultimately with our divine source), befriend our inner demons and turn them into divine messengers instead, so we can achieve this balance, breath by breath, posture by posture, day by day. To become aware. And with awareness comes happiness.
The goal for most writers of any genre is to “find their voice”. But where should they find it? I don’t believe it can be found anywhere, because it is already there all along.
The goal really should be to trust their voice instead. To speak clearly with their own voice of truth, not to mimic another’s, no matter how “different” it is or how much “better” it seems to sound.
Being different doesn’t mean that we don’t belong. It means simply that we are unique in the way we express and experience ourselves. In fact I think that we would feel a lot more “belonging” if we learned to trust ourselves and our own, unique voice. It is the voice of the divine after all, the voice that comes from our hearts and souls and ultimately from the source of all live.
Our perceived faults, our perceived weaknesses or shortcomings, the shadow sides of our personalities and lives are probably hiding the key to our soul, to our greatness, our way to shine light into the world. They are opportunities to be celebrated.
Of course this doesn’t always come easy.
We all know it from our own life experiences.
In 1992 I had a motorbike accident. I broke several bones in my body, had an impalement through my perineum and abdomen, lost more then half of my blood, several teeth and my friend, who was driving the bike. When I woke up on the road I knew I had to make a decision – let go and die, or keep myself awake and live. I chose to live and this choice remained throughout the rest of my life. Today I see this as a gift, an initiation into a deeper layer of life I wouldn’t have insight to without this experience.
And if I hadn’t damaged my body I wouldn’t have gained the level of understanding of how to work with the body that I have now. Old injuries remain our teachers for a long time.
The world is full of examples like this. All of them are showing us that the best treasures are in the darkness, in the shadows, the weak spots, the faults, the feelings of inadequacy.
If you, like me, grew up with traditional fairy tales, (just read any of the original Grimm’s stories) you’ll know all about it. If we can be brave enough to look at ourselves clearly and objectively and shine the light of truth on to our shadows, no matter what they are, we can turn them into our unique gifts and treasures and a true feeling of belonging in this world.
(For those of you interested in dance, here are some Bob Fosse links):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t14vhjUwe_o (Bob Fosse documentary)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcrZIK3gqbU (Bob Fosse Choreography)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxmz3RcNNBE (Liza Minnelli in Cabaret – directed by Bob Fosse)