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Falling off the Pommel Horse—In Life

What can gentle yoga teach Olympic athletes?

Getting on that pommel horse

John Orozco on the pommel horse US team Olympics, London 2012

A couple of days ago, in the midst of a 'gentle yoga' class at Santa Cruz Yoga, the instructor said something which made perfect sense to me, standing there in tree pose, wobbling on one leg, with my hands branching out to the sky. "Do what you can do today," she advised us. "Go with your body, and listen to it. No judgment. Just listen and accept it as it is today." Her final words, before releasing our tree pose and allowing both feet touch the ground, were "do a routine you can keep on doing every day, and you'll be fine." This is very much what I love about yoga—the constant striving for improvement, in details big and small, alongside the constant acceptance of where our body is that day in terms of what it can or cannot do, and the fact that it can be elsewhere tomorrow.

Later that evening, her gentle words came to mind as I was watching the remarkable display of male gymnastics, peppered with the occasional fall. I have seen Danell Leyva, slip off the pommel horse, then resume his routine, dismount, and cover himself with his celestial lucky towel, which at that moment seemed like a security blanket, even though Leyva is the 2011 U.S national all-around gold medalist and the 2011 world champion on the parallel bars. I have seen John Orozco, aged 19, from the Bronx, the boy who's been winning medals at the US National Championship since 2007, when he competed in the junior division. After giving a less than perfect performance on the vault, he sat down, practically crying.

True, no member of the US team would have made it to the Olympics, and the male team as a whole would not have made it to the finals, finishing 5th, had they not constantly pushed themselves to the max. Just like the US women's "fab five" would not have made it to the gold medal had they no demanded so much of themselves. But alongside the striving for the max, there needs to be compassion. There needs to be some gentle yoga thinking, some listening, some suspension of judgment, some acceptance, so that these brave athletes, indeed all 10,500 athletes competing in these fabulous Olympic games, and all the athletes who stayed at home, not meeting the qualifications, keep on trying, keep on smiling, even when they fall or slip. Because to accept your falls and your slip, and to try again in spite of them, is what allows you to go on, to demand the maximum of yourself today, and accepting that today might be different from yesterday, but that you will go on tomorrow.

Unlike these athletes, most of us will never get on the bars or pommel horse. Just like these athletes, most of us will fall. Let us promise to ourselves that when we do, we remember that to fall is human. To forgive yourself for falling, to acknowledge that you tried, and then move on—this truly is divine.

More from Talya Miron-Shatz Ph.D.
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