The doing is often more important than the outcome. ~ Arthur Ashe
I always wanted to be a person who did yoga. I mean, yoga is cool, and it’s spiritual, right? I have started and stopped a yoga practice more times than I can count, but I could never get one to stick until I learned a couple of things that made all the difference—and that apply equally to all aspects of life.
1. Yoga (life) is about loving the body/circumstance you have, not longing for a different one.
They say that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. I have always been a results-based person, in all areas of my life. I love goals! In yoga, this meant that I wanted to achieve something—specifically, I wanted to be flexible. I wanted to be one of those lithe and lovely women who can fold themselves in half and rest their faces gracefully on their knees. (I even have a picture of this on my vision board—below.)
Unfortunately, although my upper body is quite loose, my hamstrings and lower back seem to be made of cement. Because my goal was to become limber in the shortest amount of time possible, I would push myself in each pose to the point of discomfort. Result: it hurt, I didn’t enjoy it, and I would soon find myself avoiding yoga class at all costs. Secondary result: I made no progress whatsoever, and would eventually give up every time.
When I do yoga now, I try to honor the body that I have, tight hamstrings and all. Comparison, whether with the person on the next mat or with an idealized photo torn from a magazine, has no place in my practice. I am careful to take each pose only to the place where I feel a comfortable stretch so that the whole practice feels like an enjoyable dance that I actually look forward to doing.
I’m also careful not to compare my own performance from one day to the next. I have stopped looking for a souped-up version of progress, and finally realized that:
2. Yoga (life) is about where your body/circumstance is right now, not where it was yesterday or might be tomorrow.
When I focus on the pleasure of what my body can do, rather than what it can’t, yoga is actually fun. I feel grateful that I can stand and reach for the ceiling, or gently bend and feel the stretch in my back. Many people can’t do these simple things. Maybe, one day, I won’t be able to do them either. Doing them now, slowly, consciously, and with pleasure, feels like a sacred prayer.
Which brings me to another thing that always frustrated me about yoga: the idea that it was supposed to be like meditation. Now, meditation is something I know how to do – but yoga never felt the least bit meditative to me until I finally stopped striving constantly for results. Approaching yoga that way kept me out of the present moment and focused on the future I was trying to achieve, but the reality is:
3. Yoga (life) is really and truly about the journey, not the destination.
When I learned to focus on my experience from moment to moment, and especially the sensation of my body stretching and moving (not straining), I naturally fell into a quiet meditative state. I have to admit, this is easier for me to maintain when I do my yoga at home, rather than in a class setting with people around me and an instructor’s voice giving directions. Quiet + focus + acceptance = (voilà!) meditation.
Though I will probably never be able to fold myself in half (sigh), at least I am now a person who does yoga.