As both a vocal instructor and a yoga instructor, I hear “I can’t do it” on a daily basis. The excuses run the gamut: from “I’m not flexible enough” to “I’m not strong enough” to “my allergies are affecting me today” to “I’ll never have those high notes” to “I can’t lose weight.” Henry Ford once say “Whether you think you can or think you can’t–you’re right.” I see this being played out on a daily basis in my own life as well as my students’ lives.
During my undergraduate studies, one of the teachers made a comment that my voice couldn’t possibly be so dark and large because I was petite physically. This statement buried deep into my psyche to the degree that I began to falsify my voice trying to make it lighter and more delicate to “match” my body type. The lack of support and physical tension needed to create this major modification tied me into knots as I kept telling myself I couldn’t possibly have a naturally dark and deep singing voice. It took years of mental and physical work to break me of this ideology and, to be honest, as my voice continues to become larger and darker, I still hear that little voice inside my head saying “you can’t possibly be a dramatic soprano. You’re 5’2″!” It’s remarkable what can go wrong and how much you can set yourself back when you tell yourself you can’t.
When I attended my yoga teacher training, the director of the program, Jennifer Yarro, opened my eyes to how often we all use those fateful words “I can’t.” These two words carry so much power. Thankfully, rather than try to instantly change my habitual way of thinking, she offered me one suggestion… Add the word “yet” to “I can’t” and suddenly it is not a terminal sentence. I can’t get into a free handstand on the floor yet, but I can go into a handstand at the wall. I can’t sing this coloratura line at this tempo yet, but I can work on it slowly and methodically at a snail’s pace. “Yet” is now one of my favorite words. You are still being realistic. You aren’t trying to go from having no vocal ability to singing at the Met in a week. You aren’t trying to go from being a couch potato to running a marathon in a day. You are still assessing your strengths and weaknesses; but, you are not saying that you will never succeed in what you cannot do this instant. You are giving yourself the opportunity to aspire for something greater and take steps towards producing that goal. This is just another way you can keep yourself from being locked into a mental box. We all form these ideas and images of who we are and what we can and cannot achieve. But maybe who you are today is not who you will be a week from now. Maybe what you look like today will be different than a year from now. Maybe your ability today will be different a month from now. Life changes, bodies change, physiques change: shouldn’t we keep the possibility open that these changes could occur for the better? Why force yourself to stay in one place and not take steps towards empowerment just because of those two stupid words: “I can’t”?
Maybe it’s too early to say “I can.” But it’s never too early to say “I can’t yet.”
#bestrongin2015 challenge day 3: Uttplutith, flying lotus. Today I make steps towards this flying posture with a little help from my language dictionaries in the vocal studio. Each day is a new day to make progress and move towards our goals: one step at a time. There is no “I can’t.” There is only “I can’t do the full pose yet, but I can do part of the pose.”