Everybody catches themselves thinking “I would love to…” or “I want to have…” and then checking themselves with, “But I don’t have enough money/time/drive” or “I’m not good enough.” That can start a long cycle of feeling like you don’t have any options to go after that thing you want so much, or try to solve problems in your life. It’s also sometimes overwhelming to try to think around one more apparent brick wall. You just don’t see the door.
When you’re in those situations, take a step back. Be prepared to do some deep digging. So often, that feeling of being trapped in a job, a relationship or a lifestyle starts with a lack of belief in yourself. It’s downright scary to think about leaving your day job to open a yoga studio or break off a relationship with a person who no longer enhances your life. It takes a lot of courage to finally indulge a wish-list goal like moving to a place you love or going back to school—with all of the attendant expense and uncertainty. But, if you’re strong enough to dream about things like these, to want something richer and deeper in your life, you’re also strong enough to make that happen.
Focus on silencing that inner voice that keeps telling you that you can’t achieve something, that you need to “settle” for what’s within easy reach. Make a contract with yourself (sign it if you need to) and map out one step you can take each day or each week to breaking out of the box. Okay, so maybe you can’t move to Spain. But you can enroll in a Spanish class, join a local cultural society or whip up some gazpacho soup for lunch. By incorporating steps toward your goal into your everyday life, you make the “box” bigger until you knock down the walls and step out into a brighter future.
Use your yoga practice to help you change your thinking and teach you how to look for ways to get out of physical and mental traps. You already know how much your yoga mat can be a place for you to go inside and find serenity under stress, or optimism in a bad time. You can also apply that to feeling trapped. At a basic level, many students trap themselves in their practice—thinking that poses always need to be entered into a certain way, or that they “can’t” do more the more challenging asanas. So it’s a good place to try to shed that baggage, whether it pertains to your body or your mind.
Your practice is also a prime opportunity to consider what acceptance really means. The yogic idea of acceptance doesn’t mean just shrugging your shoulders and feeling you’re destined to be limited or unfulfilled. Instead, it encourages you to embrace each moment, to learn and to explore. As you come to the mat, you fully expect that the experience will be different from the last time. By committing to the practice, you’re also saying that you believe you’re up to the challenge and that you’re ready to move beyond previous boundaries into new territory.
Within the physical confines of your yoga mat, you can direct your attention to just how many choices you do have. Even within a single pose, you can focus on a different body part, try a modification, or allow yourself to start mastering a more advanced version. Armed with this strength, balance and flexibility, you can reinforce thought patterns that tell you just how free you are to choose your life.
This sequence of variations on a single pose can help you see outside the box.
Benefits: This standing balance pose asks you to redefine what you think you can do. How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Hinge your body forward from your hips into a forward bend with your palms or fingertips on the floor just under your shoulders. On an exhale, bring your left leg back until your right knee forms a 90-degree angle. Engage your center. Bring your hands to your right knee, one on the outside and one on the inside. Reach your arms out to the wall ahead of you. On an exhale, stretch your right knee as you push your left foot off the floor. Be careful not to let your body go too far forward. Lock your right thigh muscles to keep yourself aligned. Check that your inner right thigh is not rolling out. Find a gazing point beneath your eyes and stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Virabhadrasana III—Variation One
Benefits: This variation helps you feel more stable. How to do it: From Virabhadrasana III, bring your arms out to the sides. Your palms should be facing the floor. Think about your arms as an invisible string anchoring your body to the walls. Stay there for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Virabhadrasana III—Variation Two
Benefits: This pose helps you change the idea of balance from a static pose to a dynamic movement. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana III. Bring your fingertips or palms back to the floor under your shoulders. As you exhale, bend your supporting leg until you feel a comfortable stretch in your right calf. Straighten your leg as you inhale. Do this three to five times, then release and repeat on the other side.
Virabhadrasana III—Variation Three
Benefits: Yoga teacher Sadie Nardini uses this version to help you feel more energized and empowered. How to do it: Begin in Virabhadrasana III, with your arms stretched forward alongside your ears. Slowly bring your left knee in toward your navel. At the same time, bend your right elbow back toward your left hip. If you need to, you can place your left hand on the ground for balance. Do this five to 10 times, then switch sides.
Virabhadrasana III—Variation Four
Benefits: This version helps you feel like you can be strong and decisive. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana III with a block in front of your right foot. Reach down and grasp the block with both hands. Exhale and lift the block until your arms are parallel to the floor. Inhale and lower it to the mat. Repeat five to 10 times, then do the other side.
After you do this practice, remember the feeling of being able to endlessly shift your body into different shapes and how that affects your balance, comfort level and focus. Try to apply the same principle in your life. When you feel like you have explored all the options, challenge yourself to release your prejudices about what those options are and take a broader perspective. Meditate on being in a darkened room. See yourself standing up in the middle of the room, at first just feeling what the volume of the space might be. Then, visualize yourself moving toward a wall, touching the surface with your fingertips. Continue working around the room until you feel the outline of a door. See yourself walking through into a brilliant sunny day or a starry night. Note how you feel—from the elation of finding the door to the satisfaction or moving beyond those four walls. Chances are, you will see that when you stop holding yourself back, that trapped feeling will vanish.