Strength or Courage?

Sun Salutation with Ease

Sun Salutation with Ease

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It has been a long time since I paid a visit to my yoga mat. I would like to say that it felt really good but, it did not. My stiff joints and underused muscles were not happy attempting to get into postures that required my body to bend into anything other than a sitting position. It has been 3 months since I walked down the stairs to my yoga den due to ill health and life in general, and I did so with some trepidation. I thought about re-starting my practice many times but, I had developed a fear and without understanding it, I could not conquer it. Much quiet reflection has brought me to discovering that it all surrounds my fear of being strong  and my need for having courage.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘strong’ as:
– having great physical power and ability; having a lot of strength
– not easy to break or damage
– not sick or injured

For most of my life, I was praised for being strong. I was told to be strong and, I was told that I was strong. And when I was strong, I felt loved. Over time, this created a perception for me that there was an expectation to be and move from a place of strength all the time. In my mind, it meant that I had to be physically and emotionally powerful and incapable of having any flaws. If I were to show any signs of vulnerability, I  felt that I was weak and would not be accepted. Being emotional was equated to being damaged, fragile and out of control. I believed that being ill was a sign of being incapable and not good enough. If I wasn’t healthy and ‘strong’, I was not worthy. 

For 45 years I lived up to the pattern that was developed from this definition of strength, and finally, one day everything that I thought made me worthy suddenly shattered. It was in March of 2005 that I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and in that moment every bit of strength was sucked out of me. I felt defeated as, suddenly, I no longer fulfilled any aspect of the definition of strength. Within that definition, being sick meant that I was damaged and powerless. I was now weak and undeserving.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘courage’ as:
– the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous
– mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

It took me some time to get past the societal perception of strength and embrace the support of personal courage. I managed to do this when I learned how to let go of unhealthy old patterns that didn’t serve me well and gain clarity about new ones that did. Adapting to my new normal did not require strength, it required courage. Strength would have pressured me into working through the pain and ignoring the inevitable in order to maintain and achieve what I thought defined me. Courage allowed me to accept my imperfections; that living with chronic pain and illness was going to be difficult but, I was still who I was, and I could move towards my best self most of the time, even if that looked different every day.

So, will I tell you that I will go back to my yoga practice tomorrow? No, because that will set me up for the need to be strong and commit to it no matter how I feel at that time. Will I tell you that I will assess my pain and well being in the morning, and take it from there? Yes, because that will give me the courage to accept and choose to do the right thing in the moment.

To sum it up, what I have learned is that Strength can manifest as the stress of others’  expectations and the fear of failure while, Courage provides us with the ease of our personal empowerment and the support of our own resilience.
Which one will you choose today?

#choice #strength #courage #DareTo #LeadAuthentic #ygk #yoga

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