29 Jun 2017

When You Say, “I Can’t Touch My Toes”

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When people ask what I do for a living, and I tell them, the most common response I hear is some version of:

I need to do yoga, but I can’t. I can’t even touch my toes.

After so many years of hearing this, I’m still sorting out the best way to respond.

For a long time, I’ve joked that saying you can’t come to yoga because you can’t touch your toes is like saying, “I’d love to drink some water, but I’m just too thirsty.” Which is funny because it’s true, and tends both elicit a laugh and help people see the error in their thinking about what yoga is. But there are so many layers to this very common statement, and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means when someone says this to me and how I want to respond.

Just under the surface, there’s the implication that one has to already be good at something before they can try it. It’s like saying to a runner, “I wish I could run, but my mile time is way more than 8 minutes.” Or saying to a weightlifter, “I’d love to hit the gym, but I can’t deadlift 235.” The obvious responses are: A) That’s something you can work up to, if you want, and B) That’s not necessarily the point.

Part of the beauty of yoga is that it gives us a space to challenge assumptions about ourselves. I’ve spent 14 years on my mat unraveling the story in my head that I’m not a strong person. But it’s impossible to communicate that to someone who’s never been on a mat, who sees the poses and assumes that’s all there is. In the social media age, when yoga is presented on Instagram as a hyper-visual, contortionistic pursuit, I totally understand how and why people make that assumption.

So how do I communicate to people that it’s not about that? That it’s not about what you can or can’t do. That the poses are fun and beautiful and feel good, but they’re not the end goal. That yoga is a long game and a lifestyle that’s ultimately about way more than what happens during an hour on your mat.

To all the people I’ll meet at cookouts and bars and dinner parties who will ask me what I do for a living, here’s what I want you to know.

When you say you can’t touch your toes, I get a little sad that you’re focused on externals and outcomes, rather than the joy of doing something just for the sake of doing it.

When you say you can’t touch your toes, I know you think that the point is getting there, rather than on what you could learn in the act of reaching.

When you say you can’t touch your toes, I know you’re telling yourself a story about what you must be able to do before you’re even worthy to walk in the room.

I want you to know that if you come to my class, I won’t give the first thought to judging you, because my focus is on being able to serve you best so that this practice will benefit you in the long run.

I want you to know that coming to yoga is a brave act, and I will honor and celebrate your courage in choosing to get on the mat.

I want you to know that you have the rest of your life to work on touching your toes, but that if you do yoga long enough, eventually you won’t care whether you can or not.

When you tell me you can’t do yoga because you can’t touch your toes, I want to open my head and play for you the reel of memories I have that don’t involve touching my toes. I want to show you the healing, restful Savasanas that brought me back to life. I want to show you all the small victories when I did something for the first time that I never thought I’d be able to do. I want to show you the sweaty moments of laughter and communion with a room full of people who may or may not be able to touch their toes, but were united in common purpose in pursuit of that thing none of us can really name yet, but we’ll find it somewhere on the way down to our feet.

When you say you can’t touch your toes, I really don’t care. Not because I don’t care about you, but because I don’t care what you or your body or your practice looks like.

I just want you to show up.

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2 Responses to “When You Say, “I Can’t Touch My Toes””

  1. Shana says:

    What a great case for yoga, and for not giving up on ourselves! You have inspired me. I bet all your students love you.

  2. Fit Chicks: Melissa Scott Yoga – Paste Magazine – Fauji E Paper: Impressions says:

    […] MS: I actually just wrote a blog post about this. I think the biggest misconception about yoga is that you have to be good at it before […]