“I can’t get in shape.”
“I can’t change my career”
“I can’t get over him/her.”
Oh trust me, I’ve been all of these can’ts in my life. Then, I found yoga.
‘Can’t’ doesn’t exist in the present moment
When I realized yoga’s power to vanquish ‘can’t’ was when I did something that I thought I really “couldn’t” do – long distance running. Without a day of distance running experience in my life I decided to sign up for the Chicago Marathon. I trained (poorly) and race day finally came. I ran the whole thing, and broke three toes in the process. Afterwards most exercise was too much for my feet. So I wandered into a Bikram yoga class because my preferred flowing style required too much ankle and toe mobility. And, while I’ve since found home base in less controversial yoga styles, I am glad that Bikram was the style I came to in that moment.
The 26 postures, done in a super hot room, start standing and all of them are held for a decent chunk of time and repeated. The class is comprised of seemingly impossible shapes and not only do you have to ‘suffer’ through them once, you hold it twice (more on suffering, later). In those moments, no matter what shape your body is taking, you can. And, you do, because leaving isn’t an option. Literally, the teachers don’t let you leave.
Like I said – controversial. But that was exactly what I needed; something crazy hard, seemingly impossible, and with no way out. There was nothing for me to do but stay and ‘can’ the hell out of every moment.
‘Can’t’ loves the illusion that suffering is out of your control
When we share these sort of ‘I can’t’ statements with people who really love us, it annoys the crap out of them! People who truly love us and have our best interest at heart know our ‘can’ts’ aren’t true – especially when we suffer from them. Even when I’ve witnessed friends and loved ones in the gravest of times, when suffering is so great and end is near, the realization always is, “You CAN let go.”
But more often, it’s our daily ‘can’ts’ that have us believing that sh*tty things in life are going to make us miserable and there’s nothing we CAN do about it. Well certainly not everything that happens is pleasant, or desired, or fair, or wonderful. But, suffering through it is a choice. We can be uncomfortable and still choose to be happy. When I forget this fact, I am reminded by my students.
‘Can’t’ Disappears with Context
I have a student named John* (*not John’s real name) and he came to class every day for six months with a boot on his foot. And he didn’t come to my slow, restorative class. No, John came to my most intense class of the week, every week, with a boot. Broken bones and all, John would move through class. Some days he would ask me to refrain from offering assists and he would leave without a word. Other days he sought out extra support and wanted to chat for a while after class. But, every week, no matter what, he was there. I was impressed that he would take on such a challenge while he was obviously suffering. I mean, there was a fricken boot on his foot in a flow class! (Remember, when my foot was broken, I thought flow class was a major ‘I can’t’.)
Eventually, the boot came off and he was still on his mat. Some days he would decline being assisted and leave without a word. Some days he specifically asked for extra support and wanted to chat after class. One time when I spoke with him after class and asked about his injury and how he was healing, John told me, “Oh I didn’t come to yoga for my ankle, I come for the breathing. I just feel so good when I’m breathing!”
All this time I thought I was privy to some sort of intense physical rehabilitation. But the truth of the matter, John didn’t give a hoot about the boot! The ‘suffering’ wasn’t even a thought in his mind. When the boot came off, nothing profoundly changed in his physical practice. He still showed up, same John, to breathe. The only person who thought John was suffering, all that time, was me. Once I got the full story, I knew the context, John’s can’t didn’t change to can. Instead, the idea of ‘can’t’ disappeared completely.
There’s a limited amount of time on this planet. We dont’ have time for doubt, or illusion, or avoidable suffering. We have time for action and choosing happiness and supporting ourselves and others. Stay on your mat at long as you need. Use what you learn to ‘can’ the hell out of every blessed moment.
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