It is not uncommon for yoga practitioners to fear inversions. And because inversions are always a part of a Jivamukti Open Level Class, I become privy to the doubts that yoga students have. I often hear the words "but I have never done this before" as a reason for one's hesitation in trying out an inversion. Injuries are of course another issue and should be taken seriously. But in most cases that I encounter, it is the unfamiliarity of the pose that stops a student in his or her tracks. Because the student has never done an inversion before, he or she has already set a limitation, thinking that he or she should keep within the bounds of the comfort zone. A line is drawn.
The other night, I met a vegetarian (someone who does not eat meat but continues to consume dairy, eggs, and honey) and upon knowing that he was vegetarian because he opposed the horrors of the meat industry, I asked him why he was not vegan (someone who eliminates all forms of animal use). He said that it was the line he drew, and that we all draw lines. I responded then by asking why lines should be drawn at all.
It made me think of how accustomed we are to drawing lines. We uphold certain values and ideals about the world, but we think it is unrealistic to match our actions with our beliefs, so we draw a line. We desire a life of fulfillment doing what we love, but we do not believe we can make a living out of it, so we draw a line. We encounter a yoga pose that looks intimidating, so we draw a line. We draw so many lines we end up drawing a box. We put ourselves in this box thinking it is safe. We get used to staying inside this box we start to think this is all we are and all that we could be. Then we lose sight of who we truly we are.
While none of us could be perfect, drawing lines and deliberately limiting our capacity underestimates our strength. There is a huge difference between drawing a line and accepting temporary limitations. Drawing a line is putting a stop to our potential, while accepting our current limitations is seeing that we are taking steps to reach our full potential- even if we are not yet there. Drawing lines is restrictive. The opposite of that is to be open to future possibilities and to welcome our own greatness. The experience is expansive.
Through the practice of inversions, we turn our world upside down. We can see our potential instead of our limitations. We can transform our fear into courage. We can live in the present instead of dwelling in the past. By turning our world upside down, we erase the lines previously drawn, and instead we choose to learn and grow and progress. All of our yoga practice is a progress. Even when it feels as though we take three steps forward and two steps back, it is progress.
My teacher Sharon Gannon often says that yogis are practical people. Indeed, what is the use of yoga if it cannot make us happier, if it cannot give us freedom? What we can get from our inversion practice is to not let the final "goal" scare us. Instead, we allow it to inspire us to take as many steps as we need to or as little steps as we feel we are ready for. In any case, we do something. We choose something over nothing. We do not just watch. We try. We do not just throw our hands up in the air and give up. We are free not because we have reached perfection. We are free because we do not shut down our heart.
And after some time, when we have an established regular yoga practice, we will notice the changes in our body. We get to experience that what was once impossible is now possible and part of our daily practice. We realize that there is no need to draw lines because we will always have the capacity to change and grow. Why draw lines when our true nature is limitless? Why draw lines when we are stronger than we think? Why draw lines when our compassion comes from an endless source? Why draw lines and cheat ourselves of the opportunity to become the highest of who we are? Why draw lines at all?