Shredding "Shoulds" and Embracing Life
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
The words of the famous American writer, Joseph Campbell, ring in my ears as I sit down to write about my yoga story. Quite simply yoga has shown me a way to let go of the life I thought I had planned and given me the courage to explore a different path.
Until I found yoga I didn’t realise the extent to which my life was dictated by the word “should.” I was a good girl. A perfectionist. A high achiever. I held myself to standards and expectations that often weren’t my own.
Then in my early thirties, life, as it tends to do when you’re heading down the wrong path, took an unexpected turn. The nine-year relationship I was in began to break down. There was a quiet voice within me that started to hint that maybe this relationship wasn’t quite right. How could this be? Surely I was crazy? My partner was the perfect person to marry and have children with. How could I possibly throw all that away?
The more I rejected this whispering voice inside me, the stronger it started to speak. I found myself crying. A lot. I got sick—My body’s way of telling me that I couldn’t continue like this. Life as I knew it was crumbling. I was scared, confused, my heart was breaking. I fought against it until I couldn’t fight anymore and I made the decision to leave.
This wasn’t meant to happen. Surely that “should” have been my path. Shouldn’t it? My hopes and dreams were in tatters. I felt like I had let myself down, and in the process hurt the person I cared most deeply for in the world. The guilt and shame was unbearable.
When there was nowhere else to turn, I turned to yoga. My mat felt like the only place where I could find solace and grounding when everything else was falling apart. Magically, at that point, an opportunity emerged to attend a workshop led by Ana Forrest, the founder of Forrest Yoga. I was new to Forrest Yoga but my body was telling me that there was something powerful about the practice. So, although apprehensive, I jumped at the chance. My heart gave a huge, resounding “yes!” When the student is ready the teacher really does appear. At the workshop Ana Forrest explained that the word “shoulders” has the word “should” in it is because it is the area of the body where we tend to hold all of our responsibilities and burdens. Her words touched me deeply. I could feel the weight of my own “shoulds” bearing down heavily in that area. As Ana coached us to breathe into the areas of tension in our shoulders and relax our necks, I could feel the first layer of “shoulds” beginning to release. Tears of hurt, grief, guilt, and shame started to flow. The relief was immense.
This experience changed everything for me. Since then Forrest Yoga has continued to provide me with practical tools to let go of my expectations about how life “should” be and embrace a life that is even richer and more aligned to who I am. It has opened me up, connected me to my spirit, and showed me that there is a different way.
Through the continuous journey of self-exploration and discovery involved in becoming a Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher, I have learned that the whispering voice within me is the voice of my spirit, my intuition, my heart’s wisdom. My practice has given me a way of connecting to and welcoming that voice rather than being afraid of what it is has to say. I’m learning that I don’t need to follow a path dictated by what I think I “should” be doing just because I’ve reached a certain age or because everyone around me is doing it. This doesn’t mean I don’t value other people’s advice and opinions, but it does mean that rather than blindly following the road most travelled, I get on my mat and ask my body what feels right for me. I don’t need to search outside. All the answers I’m looking for lie within.
When I’m not sure of the path to follow I ground myself through active feet. When I set my vision and intentions for life, I focus on my active hands, and it reminds me not to grip too tightly to my plans and expectations—Instead to remain open to the possibilities that life has to offer. These are often much greater than what we thought we wanted in the first place. When I feel disconnected and low in mood, I connect to my deepest breath and do some Forrest Yoga ab workouts. This gets my energy moving and reminds me of how alive I am right now.
It’s not that my path is now a linear, upward trajectory in which yoga provides a miracle cure. Of course I experience challenges. There are times when I still feel confused, uncertain, and fearful of the future. But now I have a way of welcoming in and working with those feelings, rather than pushing them away. Yoga has allowed me to unravel and accept my story so far. It has also given me a way of taking full authorship of the next chapter. I get to choose how it will unfold. The fact that this chapter involves teaching yoga and helping others to navigate life transitions, while remaining grounded in who they are and what they want, is exhilarating!