So there I am. Sweat dripping down my face, a loose lock of hair plastered to my forehead, holding warrior II for a length of time that makes you question whether the instructor got distracted, is experimenting with passive aggression, or jumped ship altogether. And then, with incredible nerve and audacity, he said: “Let yourself be broken. Surrender yourself and let the practice break you.”
Break me? Break what? Must not break. Must avoid any type of breakage.
Yeah, easy for you to say as you bask in our squirmy, sweaty suffering. I’m the one practicing across from the mouth-breather over here. Don’t get me wrong, I love and respect this instructor. I truly do. But several months back when he requested, with a warm smile, that I let myself be broken, my sometimes sassy internal monologue responded with a resounding, “Hell no.”
Look, most yogis with a regular practice are in class for a reason. Not to generalize, but among the gravity-defying, make you look sideways, potentially-capable-of-levitating friends I’ve had the extraordinary fortune of meeting through my practice, I’ve noticed a few trends:
1. We tend to be type-A’s who initially got into yoga to chill ourselves out – it’s cheaper than therapy and healthier than drugs.
2. As our practices evolved, yoga started creeping off the mat and into our lives. Sometimes in funky ways.
3. If you ask whether their pre-yoga self would recognize, appreciate, or understand their current self, the self cultivated from an extended period of dedicated practice, they’ll tell you, “no way.”
Despite the massive change this practice instigates, when you instruct a room full of naturally type-A people to let themselves break, you’re going to be met with a tidal wave of resistance. If you could listen to the collective thoughts of the class, it would probably include a lot of aggression and most likely some adult language.
I left that class wondering what he meant by broken? How could a state of brokenness serve anyone? A nail is the most I’m willing to break here.
Fast forward a few months and, after quitting a job and a path that wasn't serving me, I’ve taken a loving sledgehammer to my life. I’ve untied some super tight knots, massaged out a few nasty kinks, and blown layers of dust off my reflection. I’ve shaken almost everything familiar, stomped all over my expectations, and flown past my comfort zone at full speed. I don’t expect an award, and it has kind of freaked me out, but hey, it happened.
It struck me that I was so caught up in the semantics and implications of what I thought it meant to be broken, that I didn’t see how my practice was breaking me while I wasn’t looking.**
**Before I continue, let me assert that I don’t believe this phenomenon is completely unique to the practice of yoga. I personally experienced it through yoga, but any activity you dedicate yourself to wholeheartedly, consistently, and fully should inspire this potential.
Despite “broken’s” unfortunate denotation, the undercurrents are truly beautiful. We fill ourselves up with so much, we let so much stick. We cling to labels and concepts, we collect titles and awards, we are hungry for endorsements and validation. But without leaving a little room for brokenness, you can’t fill yourself with anything new.
I didn’t pioneer this concept. I see it everywhere in the yoga community. I just didn’t know what to call it.
I’m surrounded by yogis who left “incredible” jobs, ended long-term relationships, shattered entrenched habits, and fundamentally transformed themselves because they had the willingness to surrender. A willingness to see how the togetherness wasn’t serving them.
Like I said, yoga can start infiltrating your life in funky ways. You may find yourself in a state of extreme cognitive dissonance because what should make you happy and what actually makes you happy no longer align. And until you find a way to make those beliefs less contradictory, you’re probably going to be extremely uncomfortable. And that can be pretty sucky. Trust me, I know.
But there’s a silver lining here. Yes, your practice has shown you some yucky gunk that needs to be cleaned out, some demons that require an exorcism, and some bags of non-vegan marshmallows that need to be thrown away, but while you weren’t paying attention, while you were focusing on not being broken, yoga provides you with the toolkit and conditions to makes these changes possible.
Without the community, the physical and mental strength, and the self-assurance that my practice has nurtured, there’s no earthly way I would have voluntarily turned my life upside-down. So if I may, having your crap together is entirely overrated.
I’m awestruck by the fierce bravery and grace of the people around me. They allow themselves to be called out on physical, emotional, social, and psychological weaknesses. They allow their community to reflect a coherent example of happiness and the necessary path to get there. They allow themselves to recognize all of the unnecessary stuff getting in the way. But most importantly, they act. They empty themselves out to make room for something better. They change. They break.