Why I Fell in Love with Yoga

It all began in a Forward Fold toward the end of my first-ever yoga class. We were sitting in Staff Pose, or dandasana. I was 25 years old, a perpetual perfectionist who constantly pushed myself beyond what I could handle, doing it all because I thought that was what God wanted me to do. I sat staring at my toes, arms at my sides, legs out in front of me, back semi-straight.

“Flex your feet with the toes wide,” my instructor said. “Happy feet.” I looked up—her toes were spread, almost waving with glee as she said “happy feet.” Staring at my toes, I tried to spread them, but the middle three on each foot stuck together, moving in sync. My big toes and stunted pinky toes spread way out to either side—too far. I pulled them back in. Flexed my feet.

“On an inhale, sweep your arms up to the sky. Exhale, fold over your legs, allowing your arms to come to wherever they might fall. This might be your calves, your ankles, your toes. Accept your muscles. Respect your hamstrings. Do not overstretch the backs of your legs. Accept where you are today. Respect your limitations. Breathe into the pose.” I heard what she said as, Accept where you are today. Respect your limitations. Accept where you are today. Accept.

My hands reached my ankles. Hamstrings ached in protest. I slid back a bit, easing the pain in my legs. I respect my hamstrings, I said in my head. I hate them. They’re tight. But I will respect them. I had never before been told to accept and respect my limitations. I closed my eyes, my head hanging awkwardly, high above my knees. Accept where you are today.

Folded over my legs, I realized that I had been so distracted by figuring out how to move my muscles that I hadn’t thought of the depression. Of the failures I felt. Respect where you are today, Renee. You cannot save the world. It’s okay if you can’t touch your toes. Something inside my hamstrings unlocked, and I drifted deeper into the stretch. I felt it. My hamstrings released, my hands slid forward. Surrendering to gravity, I felt okay. Like I was melting. Like my mind slid out of my head and into the rest of me, experiencing the respect and acceptance to be right where I was, sitting on the floor, not touching my toes. For today, that was okay.

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