Not As Strong As You Think
Over the past couple years I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga, I’ve become aware of something: how often people tell me I am STRONG. Almost all of the teachers I’ve ever had, in fact, have told me this. When I really think about it, people have been telling me this my entire life.
The problem is, when it comes to yoga, I don’t feel strong at all. For years, I have met each yoga class with a faint sense of dread that I wouldn’t have the endurance to make it through. Yoga almost always feels hard and insurmountable. I often feel weak going into class, and exhausted afterwards. I have several moments during practice where I feel really incapable.
Yet, I constantly hear “You are strong!”
It’s a frustrating disconnect to hear it so much and not feel it. It makes me wonder what my teachers see on the outside that I cannot feel on the inside. It seems like there are certain expectations of me because I’m “so strong.” I feel like I can’t live up to that expectation… though I often try, and end up pushing myself to exhaustion.
Perhaps this is how I ended up with clinical adrenal fatigue two years ago. Suddenly, there was no proving to anyone that I was strong, because I couldn’t even spend five minutes in my garden before feeling dizzy and faint. I would wake up every day with my gas tank on E. It was depressing and debilitating, and it lasted months before I was able to figure out the problem with the help of my doctor.
It took me two months of complete rest, a regimen of adaptogenic herbs, and at least another year of slowly getting back into physical activity before I finally felt I had adequate energy levels again. To this day, if I “overdo it,” it takes me a few weeks to fully recover.
So I may look strong on the outside, but on the inside I’m a little fragile. You never know what people are really feeling inside, or what they’ve been through. I’m sure many yogis I encounter have a backstory even more serious than mine, though on the outside they look fit and capable.
There’s a danger in telling people they are strong, because perhaps they get the message it’s not ok to be weak. And it IS ok, of course. Yoga can give us whatever kind of strength we are looking for, over time. But until then, we’re allowed to be weak. Weak is NOT the same as lazy—a mistake in thinking I’ve often made. It’s not lazy, but rather brave and responsible, to listen when our body tells us to ease up. We are allowed to honor what we feel inside our bodies, despite what someone else may observe. A good teacher knows the student is his or her own best guide, and lets that inner intelligence to take the lead.
Am I really that harmed by people telling me I am strong? No, I’m really not. It's mostly meant as a complement, or encouragement. Besides, no matter what someone else says or expects, It’s up to ME to meter my efforts in yoga and beyond. But, I still hope this is a good reminder that you don't need to live up to anyone's expectation--trust your inner intelligence fully and let it be your guide. And remember that what you observe on the outside of a person may be very different than what they experience on the inside. Let us leave space for each other's weaknesses, and our own, for by allowing weakness to be there, we can start taking steps towards true strength.