Friday night I found myself at yoga again.
It’s becoming a guilty pleasure to end the week with yoga. At the end of the class I find myself laying in a dark room with a little mat like a kindergartner on a carpet square hungry for a nap. I do the shavasan and again nearly fell asleep until the teacher sounded the bell.
Not kidding – she has a bell.
Anyways, this week’s class was a series of back stretches and one very, very hard pose but not nearly as painful as pigeon pose. Pigeon pose last week = evil. Half moon pose this week = hard but dammit I was going to win. The teacher warned at the start of class that yoga is not about competition (was she speaking right to me?) but come on, it’s December – I have to put the competitive urge somewhere that won’t bite me in the ass come April.
I’ve noticed when it comes to balancing on one leg I can kick half the class’ ass. This is important to me again because I need to put that competitive rage somewhere and if I can do it on one leg – all the better for me. Mustn’t fatigue both legs. I have learned that my tree pose is where’s it’s at. I can turn myself into a mean, well-rooted tree. Perhaps it was 7 years working at a tree museum that I became more tree like. Or perhaps my ability to balance on one leg is a sign that in life I am balanced but I also know that saying that would be complete crap. Balance is a work in progress. Maybe next time I feel overwhelmed by things I will stick my leg up like a flamingo to prove that I can balance and be ok.
That would work. Right?
Somewhere in the middle of standing tree pose and extending arms overhead to become a taller tree, the instructor said something that struck me:
Holding on is harder than letting go.
Of course she was referring to the fact that curling your toes and gritting your teeth to stabilize yourself is really harder than just engaging your abdominals, standing strong from your core and letting go. But it struck me as something you could draw out to the rest of life.
Try it. Try it now. Stand tall and correct your posture. Tuck your pelvis under, pull your shoulders back and draw your abdominals down. Now look at yourself. Are you clenching your butt cheeks? Are you straining in your back? Loosen all of this – and let go. You can achieve the same strong posture without the strain. And when you strain less you free up more attention for other thoughts or actions.
Let it go.
Holding on is so costly in terms of physical and emotional energy. How many habits, patterns or behaviors have you held on to this year? How many worked? How many didn’t work but you kept them anyways because it’s easier? Yet how many things worthwhile in life are easy? So what is it that you fear about change?
Or is your resistance to change there because change involves “work”? Work that requires reflecting on yourself, admitting your flaws, accepting that there is a better way. This is not easy. It involves digging into yourself to find your flaws or peel away the layers to reveal the uglier parts of yourself. At that moment you are entirely exposed and vulnerable.
But if you are strong in yourself and faithful in who you are – you know that this is simply part of the process of improving yourself. How many of you are not willing to give up your illusion of confidence, security and control because of what you know is underneath yourself – the truth, a series of bad habits or attitudes, a resistance to change?
Change is never easy. Uprooting ourselves (get it, like tree pose?) involves discomfort and uncertainty. There are so many unwilling to make a change because of this uncertainty. Often because uncertainty means relinquishing control. It means giving up your hold on your world and trusting it with someone or something else. It means trusting there is a better way. Taking a risk. You hear so many say after a big risk that they got burned. They suffered, so to speak, because of a risk that went wrong or a mistake.
Though the last I checked the only way to get burned is to stick your finger directly into a flame.
Make a change to improve yourself today. Take action! You will not get burned. Even in all the mistakes I have made, I do not regret them. Instead, I look for a lesson. There is always something to be learned. In everything we do, there is so much to be learned in the process – as long as you take as much as you can from it, it’s not a failure. It’s just sort of a painful lesson.
Let go of what you know to search for something else this new year. What is it you want? Personal contentment, athletic success, a better job…what? Decide to do it and move forward to your new place. Along the way there will be failure, success, both of which move you to a better place than if you had just held on to the same place. Because in reaching the new place you are…wiser.
In working closely with athletes in the past year, I find those who progress and reach goals are willing to accept the change and uncertainty that accompanies the process of improvement because they have faith. You can easily spot a potential success by examining someone’s faith in themselves. Success disregards speed, age, V02max...all of this means nothing without faith. Faith is strongly believing in the choices you make and loyalty to yourself. Faith is essentially confidence.
Have you noticed how hard it is for some people to have faith in themselves and the choices they make? Have you ever noticed that people will work terribly hard to tell you all the reasons why they will fail? Or hold on to all of their bad habits or negative beliefs just because it’s easier? Is this you? People will spend energy in writing emails or having conversations filled with 100 reasons why they will not/cannot do this. You know what – I agree! If you are putting all of your energy into why you won’t get somewhere, you won’t get there. You’ll be too busy getting somewhere else – to one of those 100 reasons!
Yet that is so much negative energy and time towards something unproductive. Time and energy that they could have just worked on having more faith in one’s self. But negative energy is easy energy. It doesn’t take much stretching outside of one’s self or change. To truly change something, you must change the energy that creates it. To find yourself in a better place you must change how you will get to that place. Again – change.
Years ago someone passed along a saying from Buddha: You cannot travel the path until you become the path itself. We sit on the edge of a new year and so many of us will be seeking success this year. We tell ourselves – it’s another chance! This year I will get there! But we go about it the wrong way. We think it takes a secret workout, a magic bullet, swearing off a particular food group. But it’s not as complicated as that. The answer is right inside yourself. You will not travel the path of success until you truly become a success.
How do you do that? It’s not by an interval you hit in the pool or a certain weight you achieve – it’s by the faith in yourself, confidence in your choices and believing you will get there. Walking the walk, acting as if, waking up and saying – what would a successful person do today?
Again, this probably involves change. Means waking up and changing the way we act, think or talk. Change is so freakin’ hard. It takes vigilance and it freakin’ hurts. Involves some soul searching, self-reflection, and a heck of a lot of honesty. Quieting your mind. Asking questions of yourself. You say “self, what is it you really want?” And then you follow it up with “self, why have you not gotten those things?” There it is. Reality.
Spend a few quiet moments reflecting on the why. The answer is there. Of course it’s there because all of the excuses we make to cover up the root problems are really just one’s way of trying to convince one’s self there isn’t a problem in the first place. If we stopped trying to convince ourselves and just started admitting things would be a lot easier. You’d get a lot further in less time.
I spent my time in college looking for answers to life by burying myself in a book atop a stairmaster or recumbent bicycle. Friday nights I would find myself at 10 pm in the Rec Center spinning away while holding a book in a pen. I scribbled pages of notes with ideas and quotes about meaning in life. Somewhere in my sophomore year probably after hundreds of miles I found Bruyere, a 17th century French moralist.
All of our evils befall us because we cannot be alone: this is what causes gambling, lechery, dissipation, wine, women, ignorance, slander, envy, and what makes us forget ourselves...
Why do I bring this up? Because to truly make change you have to quiet your mind and sit by yourself. Until you do you will just spend time with all sorts of stimulation and chatter that helps you forget yourself. Instead, sit quietly and think it through. Ask yourself the questions and be brave enough to stick around to hear the answer. And then listen. Chances are you hear the answers every day. But you never listen. For once, at the start of this new year listen to yourself.
I must have read a lot of French philosophy that year because I also found this by Pascal:
…man's unhappiness springs from one thing alone, his incapacity to stay quietly in one room.
In my experience, those that succeed have the ability to sit quietly in their own room and experience contentment with themselves and the choices they’ve made. Those who grasp towards but never reach success see the process of improvement (letting go, taking action, having faith) as an endless struggle with themselves. They sit in their room wondering what the person next door is doing. Or wonder if they are sitting the right way. Or how much longer they have to sit. Or if they should be standing instead.
What would you think if you sat quietly in a room? Try it.
Come full circle now back to yoga class. It’s not competitive. It’s not about forcing or holding on. It’s about quieting your mind, letting go and focusing on yourself. Do you need to go to a yoga class to make this happen? Absolutely not. But you can follow the principle. Going to these classes reminds me of the principles and things I discovered reading books so many years ago – that the answers, our future, our successes lie entirely within ourselves. You need not look anywhere else.
Whatever you are seeking this next year, you can get there. You can start today. Begin first by actively pursuing yourself. Sit quietly and ask yourself the questions that you have probably been answering all along – what’s holding you back, what would happen if you made a change, what would it take to get to that new place, what is keeping you from having full faith in yourself. Seek out the answers - and when you find them listen. Then let go of where you are and begin it. Have faith in your choices, learn lessons along the way, keep moving forward without regret.
There’s no better time to start than the new year ahead.