Monday, January 28, 2013

On trying without trying to "achieve", setting yourself up to succeed, and never giving up

Sometimes I hear people say: "I've accepted that I will never be able to do that pose", or "that pose is just impossible for me."

In fact, I've probably said exactly those things. I've "embraced my body's shortcomings" or "accepted my limitations" more times than I can count in yoga. I've said things like "well, my arms are just too weak / legs too long / back too crooked to be able to do that pose".

And I thought it was pretty yogic, you know? "Letting go" of my attachment do being able to do a particular pose. "Accepting my body the way it is", with its "too long / too short / too weak / too crooked" limbs or joints or regions.

But it wasn't. Yogic, as in "rooted in and therefore justified by yoga philosophy." I was not being philosophical, I was being escapist. I was not being "enlightened", I was being defeatist.

Because what yoga philosophy really says is: try anyway. Don't worry about what you achieve, or don't achieve. Don't worry about too short / too long / too weak / too crooked. Just try, and then try again tomorrow.

Of course, that is easier said than done, because we are human beings and we want results. Not results next year, but results next week. We want movie-musical-montage kind of progress, where within the space of 2 emotionally stimulating minutes set to a swelling score, we overcome obstacles and achieve the hitherto unachievable. But there's a reason that those scenes are done in a montage, and that is this: the reality is very, very dull. Monotonous even.  There are days, and weeks and months, and probably years in which you don't "achieve" that impossible pose.

But from the philosophical sense, that doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter where you get, or how quickly you get there. What matters is that you DID - because doing is infinitely preferable than restraining from doing.

Now, that doesn't mean getting straight on your mat and attempting headstand in your first week of practice. Or your second. Or your first year. Or your first decade. What it does mean, is keeping an open mind that ONE DAY, you may be able to do headstand. That's all - you don't have to do it, or even consciously work towards it - just don't rule it out. Whether it happens or not is another story, the outcome of which you needn't concern yourself with. Just as long as you never give up on yourself and the potential that lies within you.

You may be quick to point out that this approach has obvious limitations: a person with compressed vertebrae should not be believing that they could do headstand. Or should they? Because you have probably already realised that this philosophy is not really about the physical practice of yoga, but our approach to our everyday lives, our infinite potential in terms of relationships, career, love, life and happiness. The physical practice merely offers us the opportunity to put it into practice every time we get on our mat. Not giving up. Believing in our potential.

So next time you are struggling with an "impossible" pose, say to yourself instead: "this pose would be possible, when..." and identify one, or two, or three things - no matter how small! - that you can work on, that will set you on the path towards that pose, and do those instead. So you are not setting yourself up to fail, but rather, you are setting yourself up to succeed at steps along the way.

For instance, if your impossible pose is handstand (mine was), you might break the pose down into: arm and wrist strength, open hamstrings, and confidence being upside down - and work on those instead.  You might VISUALISE yourself doing the full pose, while integrating into your practice the little steps that might eventually get you there. You might set yourself on the path, and make it about the journey, and not the destination (it will be about the journey, in the end, regardless).

Don't surrender to self-prescribed boundaries of what's impossible. Don't chain yourself to results. Surrender to possibility, and let the outcome surprise you.

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