There is a phrase that I’ve heard a number of times in yoga class. Some teachers will say, sandwiched between the introduction to the pose and the places it can take you if you are already super bendy and strong: “if it’s available to you.” As in, “if it’s available to you, reach back and grab onto your heels” in camel pose, hips flinging forward.
I love this phrase. I love the non-judgment of it. In a world where so many of us judge ourselves harshly, identify and tally the ways in which we fall short of goals, this phrase takes failure out of the equation, notes simply that there are things that aren’t available right now.
I thought of this phrase once when giving a massage to a woman who had suffered a tremendous personal loss. She said that there was a very painful spot along the lateral edge of her scapula, but when I tried to find it, she had no pain there — it had released somewhere along the way, maybe through a shift in posture, maybe a previous massage, a moment in which it became available to let the pain go. Rather than express pleasure that a previously painful point felt OK, she reacted by telling me about another physical strain that she did not believe would ever release. As one who has carried my own significant chunk of armoring around, it struck me that maybe the physical discomfort was still necessary to manage the personal loss — a physical holding pattern, perhaps, to carry an emotional weight. Sometimes we seek relief in massage, and sometimes the full release is simply not available.
When I started practicing yoga, there were a lot of things that weren’t available to me: opening along the front side of the body fully in camel, seeing my toes peek up above my head in standing bow, maintaining balance, strength. There are a lot of things that are still not available to me — in yoga and in life. There are plenty of times when the word “can’t” still pops up for me, and the gentle reminder to change the language nudges me in a far more positive direction. It doesn’t have to be that I can’t do something, with all the permanence of that language, but rather something that’s not available right now. Change can come at any time. And oh my goodness, the grace I’ve felt when something new becomes available: diving more deeply into a yoga posture, feeling old hurts lift from the heart, the flying feeling of riding a bicycle for the first time without your mom running along holding the seat behind you (I’m reaching back a ways for that one). If we are open to change and growth, it may come at any time. And the cold truth is that sometimes change won’t come even when we think it’s high time, and the best we can do in those moments is sit with our limitations. Yoga can help tremendously, as can massage, the presence of a caring teacher or therapist reminding us to sit in non-judgment, breathing into the immediacy of what is available, feeling where we are.