Elephants all over the world are held in captivity by chains bound around their ankles. Imagine a 15,000-pound creature with all of its force and strength, held docile by a flimsy shackle and a little peg that would break in an instant if they tried to run. The elephants never attempt escape, though – they don’t believe they can. As babies, elephants are kept in captivity with those same chains. When inspired by a natural curiosity, any movement to explore would have resulted in the chains cutting into their legs and developing wounds that could last for months. Despite growing huge and strong, an elephant never forgets what those chains felt like, so they remain in place. The elephants remember their limitations, hold them to be reality forever, and stay put. They never know their own strength.
Similarly, so much of what holds us back are just our beliefs – what we think we can and cannot do. Growing up, we are so often told that we cannot, or should not, or simply will not. Eventually, many of those thoughts take hold and we internalize them as truths. Those truths express themselves as limitations every day – in our yoga practice, in our professional careers, even in our relationships with family and friends. Every day, these invisible chains might be keeping us from exploring new ideas, engaging in new experiences, and finding undiscovered strength.
When it comes to yoga, we see these fears and hesitations often when working inversions and backbends; the resistance to explore can also manifest with something as seemingly innocuous as simply stretching ourselves deeper into a pose. It’s important to forgive ourselves, and recognize that we all have invisible chains holding us back from something. One person might be completely paralyzed when it comes to handstands, but feel fearless when opening her heart in a full backbend. Someone else might believe he could never hit that Warrior 3 balance without falling on the mat, but feels free and liberated when hopping into a handstand at the end of class.
It is so important, as we move forward in mindfulness and awareness, to recognize that we all have these chains – more than ok, it’s what makes us human. It’s an incredible and beautiful thing to dedicate yourself to practicing yoga, or living in the moment, or strengthening your core – but until we work as hard as we can to break free from our perceived weaknesses, we will never know how strong we can be.