I am not a gymnast. I am not a ballerina. Calisthenics? No. Martial arts? Nup! Growing up, I never did the sort of activities which helped children to gain amazing balance, flexibility or strength in their body. I tried ballet once (for about 8 weeks), when I was about 6, but the teacher told me I was fat and too old to start. You can imagine I left pretty quickly after that! (Hello life long self-esteem issues!). At school the Tri Skool came a couple of times over the years, letting us play on some temporary gymnastics equipment, but this was usually just for a lunch time. That was the extend of my gymnastics training!
Long story short - I played all the usual sports like netball, softball and basketball. I did sprint and cross country running at one point and even tried my hand at tennis (total fail here). I was also a horse rider, which certainly didn’t help in the flexibility arena. Scoliosis also meant chronic pain in my lower back and limited flexibility in my spine… or so i thought.
You see - for much of my life I have defined myself by my past experiences.
I never did ballet or gymnastics so I can never do the splits.. or
I have a bad back so I will never be able to do a backbend..
On and on it went. I was my own worst enemy when it came to trying new things, or believing (which is more accurate) that I could try new things. I was extremely good at pigeonholing myself, labelling myself - making sure I did nothing outside of that label.
Turns out - these labels are not only extraordinarily unhelpful, but they are damaging too. Turns out, just like ballerinas and gymnasts learn early on, I too have the potential to move my body in amazing ways. Whilst this is a much slower progression as I’m about to hit 30 and my body is not as supple as a child or teen, turns out there is possibility to train my body to reach these new, seemingly impossible heights.
I never needed to be defined by my perceived weaknesses, because they are only that - perceived. It’s taken a little while, but I’ve come to understand (through experience) that I am the creator of my own reality. Should I want to be weak, then I can make it so. Should I want to be strong and flexible, then this too can be achieved.
At a time in my life when I felt like everything was falling apart, I traveled to India where I met a man, Guruji, who saw potential in me. Correction - he sees potential in all. One day, I went to this wise man privately, in tears, to speak about my back pain. How I felt so limited by it. He said something to me that day that I have never forgotten and that I will hold close for the rest of my life.
I am not my pain. My pain will only exist if I allow it to be so. Should I choose to be strong, then I will be strong. But if I choose weakness, then this is all I will ever know. Physically, mentally…. It will touch every aspect of my life.
An interesting thing happened after that conversation - not only did I begin telling myself positive messages about my back, about who I am in the world - but I began to notice changes. My body felt stronger, my mind calmer. I felt at ease with my body and mind, more confident.
This is not to say the back pain has disappeared. Absolutely not. It’s still there. But I am not defined by it and it does not haunt me the way it once did, for so much of my life. The pain fluctuates; but rather than give into it, I challenge it. I give it the most minimal attention.
So today I finally did Pincha Mayurasana on my own. The most difficult part of this asana, this posture, has been the bend in my spine. I’ve fallen more times than I can count and the pain in my back was intense at times. But finally, with a little self belief and determination, here I am. Every day my spine is becoming stronger and more flexible - because I believe it can be so.
This asana has been possible only because of three key things:
Having the courage to face fears
Finding the will to keep trying
Being inspired by a man who could see beyond the surface. At the time, he could see what I couldn’t, and I will be forever grateful for his belief in me.
As a final note - we do not need to be our pain. We do not need to let it hold us back. If we do, then we lose the possibility of achieving amazing things in this lifetime. Ask yourself - “Why do you keep yourself small? Why do you play the safe card? What’s the payoff for this?” Whilst these questions are confronting, they could be key to unlocking parts of yourself you never realised existed.