"I have the tightest hamstrings in the world.”
That is a story I've been telling myself ever since I bumbled my 10 year old, 5'6" body into a gymnastics class at the local community center. If you knew me back then (or now), you could picture the ridiculousness of that notion. I was a head taller than the teacher, and I was afraid to do a somersault.
Decades later, four inches taller, and a dedicated daily yoga practitioner, I still believe my hamstrings hold the prize as the tightest, least yielding muscles of all.
How are my hamstrings still so stinking tight? How many seated wide legged forward folds does a girl have to do? I keep blaming the muscles, rather than the story I tell about them. I've believed for so long that I have tight hamstrings, so I avoid stretching them. I insist they are just too tight. Therefore they are still tight. Tightly-bound-yoga-paradoxes.
(I understand the irony and the ridiculousness of my avoidance. But there's a moral here. It's a metaphor.)
Recently, I've been thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. The deep-set beliefs about ourselves, our past, (our muscles), and our abilities. Oftentimes we have an idea or a statement embedded in our mind: once upon a time we heard we were not tall enough, smart enough, skinny enough, (flexible enough), confident enough, etc. And it stuck. And we hold onto it, we adopt it as part of our story. We limit ourselves by these false beliefs. We reduce ourselves, our potential. We don't think we can, so we don't even try.
I do that on my mat. The teacher calls for any postures designed to lengthen my stubborn backside body, and I balk. My first, reflexive thought is, “Not with my hamstrings, sister.” Boom. Immediately I think I can't, so I don't. That happens with stuff off the mat, too, doesn't it? An idea comes up, and there's this little doubting negative voice inside that shuts it down. There will always be an excuse or a reason or a story we can tell ourselves to keep from growing, changing, and letting go. Whether it's my tight hamstrings, or a lack of time, money, or (insert commodity here).
Limiting beliefs, old stories we keep telling ourselves, fear – they can become excuses to stay small.
I'm tired of telling myself I can't. And so I've set myself a great big goal for a strong-legged gal like me: Hanumanasana. The pose of the Divine Monkey.
Have you heard of this pose? Full splits? It's named after Hanuman. A piece of divinity, an incarnation of Shiva, in the shape of a monkey. Blessed at birth with many magical powers, he was also cursed on account of his monkeying antics: He was unable to remember his powers unless someone reminded him. His is a wild story, epic, really. There are lots of versions, but one thing is constant: Hanuman's path crossed with other legendary characters – gods, kings, and villains. He is described as a warrior, a scholar, a friend, and a hero. His story has many twists and turns, but one moral to take away is that if you let go of your limiting beliefs, realize your power and commit to making a leap of faith, you can do the impossible.
One legend tells of Hanuman joining forces with a mighty king named Rama. Rama's wife is kidnapped and held captive on the island of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) for over a year. Rama and his grand company travel to the southern tip of India to find her, but they encounter the ocean. A seemingly impassable, impossible strait stands between them and Lanka. According to the legend, Hanuman recalls his powers once his community of warriors remind him. He takes a running start, and he completes a stunning leap across the ocean from the southern tip of India to Lanka (for those keeping track, that's about 30km).
A leap of faith made in the name of friendship, self-sacrifice, devotion, and love.
The impossible became possible.
When a challenging opportunity presents itself, do you dismiss it as impossible? Or do you find a way to cross your boundary and push your definition of what is possible? What ocean stands in the way of your destiny? Do you have a project or a cause that is tickling the back of your mind that you keep insisting you can't do?
Letting go of a limiting belief can be scary. Suddenly your horizons, possibilities, abilities are greater than you thought. The potential is different. Your comfort zone, that reduced radius you've grown accustomed to, is gone. Sometimes it's easier to say, "I can't" rather than to try; safer to say that you're incapable or weak. Realizing instead that you are strong, confident, and more than able may make you feel more responsible to go for it. To stretch.
And so I'm starting on the mat. I'm committing to having the patience, dedication, and perseverance to safely change my story, my limiting belief about my tight legs. Bring on the preparatory postures, the bolsters, the blocks. From now on, I no longer have the tightest hamstrings in the world. Now, I'm “working to find new length.” One story shuts me down, and the other gives me space to grow.
Challenge and change an “I can't” into an “I can.” Like Hanuman, remember your own power; commit to making a leap.
May there be more possibilities than impossibilities.