Hot Yoga Session 11: Choose how you Experience Each Practice

This post is part of my January 2012 30 Days of Hot Yoga series. This month I’m taking on a personal challenge to complete 30 sessions of hot yoga at Baptiste Studios in 30 days in celebration of my 30th birthday. Wish me luck!

Towards the end of the practice today the instructor said “This is your experience. You choose how you want to experience it. If you want it to be difficult, it will be difficult. If you want it to be easy, it will be easy. But know that whatever you choose, it was what you sought out.”

She was talking to me. As she said it, I was breathing through extreme discomfort in pigeon pose. And this the part where I confess I’m an idiot. Pigeon always comes at the end of the class because it is calming and relaxing. Through this pose, your hips open while you rest and rinse out all of the work you just did. Or at least that’s the idea. For me, pigeon was my chance to get in one more difficult stretch, my chance to get that much closer to the really flexible ladies that try to convince me to buy over-valued yoga pants by holding difficult and awkward poses. It was my opportunity to keep pushing myself towards possibility, success, enlightenment. Sure, class is difficult now (I would tell myself), but it will be easy soon enough.

What was I thinking?

I have been practicing with the assumption that pushing myself through each pose, holding while my shoulders scream in pain, breathing through extreme discomfort, will make me stronger. And, only when I’m stronger, when I have earned the right to an easier practice, will I actually start enjoying myself. I kept saying “the first week will be difficult, but after that it gets easier” and I earnestly believed that was true.

But yoga doesn’t ever get “easy.” The more you work at it, the more you realize how far you are from mastering each pose. And while I do want to advance my practice into harder poses, it’s not going to happen tomorrow. It might not ever happen. So why spend the next 21 days fighting against my body during the “resting” portion of class when I could be enjoying it?

And sure, I did say from the beginning that this is the “hard” studio. But that is also a lie. It’s not the studio, or the heat, or the Baptiste method that is challenging, it’s me. And not only is this ridiculous perspective ineffective on the yoga mat, it’s also an ineffective approach to life.

So I thought a little bit more about where this ridiculous perspective came from.. and it made me realize something about myself.

Daniel Burrus, CEO of Burrus Research recently wrote “There’s no competetive advantage in being just like everyone else” in a recent publication for ThoughtLeaders.

The truth is, that difficult is the approach I take with life. I measure success based on pain – stress at work, overwhelming volunteer commitments, social engagements, lectures, and networking sessions every night, exercise that leaves me limping for days. And for whatever reason, I’ve convinced myself that pain is the measure of success, and success is happiness. The truth is, that a lot of us approach life this way. We think that if we are not continuously seeing a progression towards something, it’s because we effed up.

Photo courtesy of Healthy Nutrition Expert

What I’m here to say tonight is: that idea of sacrifice will lead to success is completely false. Pain leads to pain, and greater expectations. At work, when you get things done through overtime, personal sacrifice, and working through lunch breaks while your friends all go out.. guess what you get? More opportunities to do just that. When you overcommit for volunteer events.. what do you get? The expectation that you can do more, that things are easy for you, and that you enjoy doing it. When you put friends or family consistently before yourself, even when it’s not necessary, you generate an expectation that you will always put them first, even if it means you sacrifice your needs for some convenience for them.

And all of that is great. It makes you seem like you are invincible, that you are reliable, and successful, and a great friend to have. But are you better for it? Is anyone better for it? Every situation, every relationship, every job, every yoga practice is different. But who you now shouldn’t always be about who you will be tomorrow, sometimes it needs to be about this moment.

I have a coworker that I recently acknowledged for her talent with setting boundaries. There is no question that she is fantastic at her job. She volunteers regularly and occasionally participates in after-work extracurriculars. And yet, when someone asks her to do something outside of scope, or increases expectations beyond what she has time to do, she says NO. She says no, and people respect her for it. She says no, and they keep coming back for more work. I absolutely admire her for that and I continually commend her for easily setting others expectations where they should be and keeps her well-being, and her personal relationships, ahead of sacrifice.

So tomorrow night will be different. I have made a commitment to focus on growing emotionally with my practice, rather than against it. I can’t say that I’m a changed person, but at least I’m getting closer to what I don’t want to be.. and that’s at least a start.