Bendy people are not necessarily happier people. That was my yoga teacher’s pronouncement as she watched her students struggle with backbends and pigeon poses. I chuckled along with the rest of the class at the ridiculousness of that statement, but in truth, her words had real resonance. Even after years of practice, I am not particularly bendy.
I sometimes glance sideways at my mat-mates, envious of those who can wrap themselves into pretzels or place their palms flat on the floor while standing with their knees perfectly straight.
That will never be me. The good news is that flexibility is neither a virtue nor a talent, at least not in yoga class. But outside of the studio — in real life — I’m working like hell on getting a whole lot bendier.
As I evolve, so does my definition of balance. It once meant finding that elusive spot where work and family life meshed, and I was able to successfully keep many juggling balls in the air.
But now I’m past that. Balance is less about walking a tightrope without stumbling and more about cultivating flexibility; I can bounce back up when I inevitably fall on my ass.
Balance is about accepting my softer belly and grayer hair with humor rather than horror. It’s about saying no to things I really don’t enjoy (downhill skiing, I’m talking about you), and saying yes to things that move me, like biking in the desert or joining the board of my local land conservancy (even if those things scare me a little). It’s about living a life that fits me, and embracing the idea that what feels balanced to me is probably very different from what feels balanced to you.
At one point, not so long ago, I felt like flexibility was somewhat synonymous with weakness. In the work world, I struggled with asserting myself as a boss to be reckoned with, despite my gentle nature and inherent goofiness.
As a parent, I tried (and failed) to emulate those mothers who found the “best” of everything — the best school, camp, tutor, pediatrician, disciplinary tactic — as if there were such things. I hung on these mother’s every self-righteous word and tried to parent as I thought they did, despite the fact that it often felt really wrong. At the gym, I lifted heavy weights even though my back ached afterwards, because that’s what I thought you had to do to be strong.
Turns out, the people who worked in my office responded to and embraced the goofy side of me. My kids like me, despite the fact that I don’t always feel like I’m being the “perfect” parent. And a combination of yoga and lighter weights saved my back (and toned my butt).
Getting to a place where you believe that your way is just as good as anyone else’s is key to finding balance. Another must? Being flexible enough — or bendy enough — to fail. That courage is what empowers us to try new things without allowing the fear of fucking up to stop us dead in our tracks.
So whether you’re reaching for the sky or just working on getting your palms on the hardwood, keep bending. It’s definitely good for the body, and it’s pretty great for the soul.