Have you ever had someone in your life who was really struggling with something and you wish desperately you could save them from themselves?
You watch a friend who is about to make a reckless career choice, for example, or who is overspending or overeating or in a relationship with someone who is clearly the wrong person—and think, if only you could help them see things from your position. If only they could see how special they are, or how much they have to offer.
If only… they would never do this to themselves.
To be honest, I’ve been around and around this merry-go-round a hundred times in my life, wishing I could save someone from their own destructive choices, all the while missing the fact that it was never my job to save them in the first place. Not to mention the fact that it is an impossible task to undertake.
We are the only ones who can save ourselves.
I was talking about this with a friend recently.
This friend also happens to be a yoga instructor and someone I admire greatly. And she said something to me that day I’ll never forget. She told me how her teacher—another yoga instructor—had said to her many years ago:
“Sarah, I give you permission to stop sitting on your students.”
This advice probably makes no sense to you (it didn’t to me at first) so let me explain.
When you take a yoga class, instructors will often walk around the room and do “adjustments” for the poses. What this means is that they’re helping you help your body get into the correct position for the pose you’re doing. So if you need to stand up taller, they might come around the back of you and lift from your rib cage.
If you’re in child’s pose, they might come put their body weight on your back, to help ease you further into the pose.
It’s a little bit of assistance—from someone who knows what they’re doing.
But what Sarah’s teacher meant to tell her that day was that there is a difference between giving someone assistance and taking on the full responsibility of getting their body into a position it’s not even ready for (aka “sitting on them). He was taking the pressure off for her, saying, “Sarah, that’s not your job.”
After all, yoga is not about getting the poses perfect every time.
We’re all getting there.
We’re all beginners.
We’re all just doing the best we can—and the best we can is enough for now.
Of course, a little assistance never hurt anybody.
When I call a friend to ask for advice, she might remind me of how valuable I am, how I don’t need to settle for anything less than the absolute best for myself, and how if I’m about to make a self-destructive decision, it might help me to take a deep breath first and ask myself if this is really what I want.
But she doesn’t monitor my text messages to make sure I’ve taken her advice.
She isn’t going to come over to my house and snoop around to see if I’ve been lying. Can you imagine what an incredible burden that would be to her? What an amazing distraction? And what a disservice it would be to me—the only real person who has to live with the consequences of my actions?
We can all stop trying to save each other.
The truth is people who try to “save” other people are often distracting themselves.
I’ve had to come to that painful realization in my life in the past few years—about how this thing I’m doing (“sitting on my students”) which I think is really nice and helpful and self-sacrificing of me is actually terribly destructive to all who are involved. What I’m gaining is a false sense of value and power.
What I’m losing is myself.
I’m distracting myself from my own inner work, avoiding my own obstacles and neglecting my own inner-battles. And, to be honest, the person I’m “saving” gets distracted too. When we sit on people, they never get to do the work for themselves.
They miss out on their own “practice” so to speak.
What a tragedy—right?
So I’ve made a commitment to myself. No more sitting on people. Living in front of them, yes. Speaking the truth of their value, always. Assisting them—sure, as much as I am able without losing myself. But no more sitting on people.
Thank God that pressure is finally gone.