When I was about 6 years old, I had a dream that I still remember vividly today. I was in the passenger seat of my mom’s car, and she asked me if I had eaten my dinner or fed it to the dog. Time froze for a moment as Jesus appeared right behind me. Not some glowing symbol of Jesus, but more like a live version of the picture of him that I would stare at when I went to my Grandmother’s church. He was tall, had piercing hazel eyes and long, light brown, wavy hair. He wore burgundy and white robes. He looked right at me and told me how important honesty was. I looked right at him and shook my head. Time snapped back on, and in this dream I boldly lied to my mom with Jesus looking disappointed in the rearview mirror.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I loved to lie. The truth was something to be bent to fit my motives. I would indulge the mundane stories of my home life to make myself seem cooler at school. I forged my dad’s signature onto letters sent home, and then lie to my parents about when I had after school meetings to fit when I felt like going. As a writer, I feel like this has come in handy. I have spent my life making up stories for fun.
The problem with a lie is that if you tell it often enough, you start to actually believe it is true. This is especially easy when you lie to yourself about yourself. We can tell ourselves all sorts of stories about why we are the way we are. We make excuses for our bodies, or force our bodies into shapes they might not necessarily want to be in.
When I started yoga, like most people, I had a preconceived notion of what my body was capable of. To be blunt, yoga doesn’t really give a shit about what you think you are capable or incapable of. Yoga is an honest wake up call. It is a time to actually hear what is going on inside of your body. Yoga becomes the practice of checking in. And in a lot of ways, the wake up can be rude. Think you are strong or flexible? Yoga will show you how much room you have to grow. Think you are weak? Yoga will show you how strong you can really be.
The mental work of being present on your mat can help you be honest about who you are too. Through trying to be present while the rest of the world is calling to you, while your body is sweating and stretching, you can notice the subtle ways you distract and talk to yourself.
The hard part is, that you actually have to be present for this to work. Many people, myself included, get hurt by ignoring the body’s honesty and forcing it into shapes that it is not ready for. I have torn, twisted, sprained and strained muscles all over my body, trying to jump, float, and stretch into poses that my body simply could not do in that moment. Yoga has taught me that telling lies literally hurts. As I got older, it got easier to tell other people the truth. I no longer felt like I had to lie about stuff, for fun or to stay out of trouble. But it took a long, dedicated, yoga practice for me to start being honest with myself about myself.
If I could go back to that dream, with Jesus looking on, I would probably still lie. Sometimes, lying can teach us the power of our words, and actions. One shift in the facts, and a story can become something altogether different. I had to learn how much control I could have before accepting that I could also let go of that control. It took adherence to the truth for me to realize how strong I could really be. The truth can be uncomfortable, and even boring. The truth can hurt, but not nearly as much as lies often do. I’m not very religious, but I think that “Dream Jesus” would be proud of me now.
Let your yoga practice be your wake up call. Next time you practice listen intently to what your body has to say. Hear the places that you have strength and space, as well as the places that you are still growing. The beauty of this practice is that is never ends. What might be true today, will some day be different. Patanjali calls this adherence to truthfulness Satya. It is one of the five Yamas, or restraints, of yoga. In order to fully live yoga, we must start being truthful. It might be easier to start with others in your daily life. But in your asana practice, let honesty guide you. Once you begin to be honest with yourself, you can learn to trust yourself; you can learn to trust your body.