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 for lunch. By incorporating steps toward your goal into your everyday life, you begin to outgrow the "box" 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.
These poses can help you see outside the box:
Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)
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.
Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock Feather Pose)
How to do it: Start in table pose, move down to your forearms. Move into Dolphin Pose. Begin moving your feet towards your elbows. Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders and your gaze towards your hands. Lift one leg up, keep it straight. With the other leg, begin to hop, moving your body into position until straight leg is vertical. Eventually, you won't need to hop, and your legs will lift into place gracefully. Once the opposing leg is vertical and the core is balanced, bring both legs to vertical.
Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose)
How it's done: *It is important to have mastered the backbend before attempting this pose as great back flexibility is required. **It is very helpful to make sure your quadriceps (thighs) are stretched out before this pose. Begin by warming up with Camel pose. Inhale, and lift your lower belly. Pull up both your arms and hold by your ears. Begin to move backward, making sure your lower back is long and stable. If you experience pain, STOP. Let your arms reach the floor. Press your feet into the floor, and then bend the knees only as much as it is necessary to reach the palms of the hands, reaching outside each foot. Keep moving backward as you check with your lower back from time to time. Hold for a few breaths and reverse your actions, slowly, as you make your way back out.
After you've practiced these poses, 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 a brilliantly 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.