After taking a break from my usual ‘fun’ exercise classes for a more intensive, targeted regimen, I was so grateful and relieved to be back in yoga class this weekend. I love the really tangible benefits of yoga – the deep stretching and the strength building. I’m sore in ways that never seem to happen with traditional weights or exercise classes.
Best of all is yoga’s mindfulness practice. For those of you who may not be practitioners, the goal of yoga is to be deeply engaged in these poses that, on the surface, often look quite easy. While in the pose, you are supposed to focus on each of your muscles to make sure they are in the right position and appropriately flexed or relaxed, as the case may be. For example, your hand(s) and foot/feet are generally supposed to be parallel to the length of the mat, your hand engaged, palm pressed flat to the floor, your feet engaged without gripping your toes to the mat, and your quads also engaged, lifting your kneecaps. You’re also supposed to deepen the stretching poses at any given time, so if they ever feel easy or comfortable, you’re not doing it right (my apologies to any really serious yogis out there for any inaccuracies, I’m still a relative novice).
In other words, if I’m not sweating, disheveled, and feeling like I just ran a marathon by the time I leave, then I haven’t really been doing my job.
However, the temptation is to go to some effort to get dressed in the yoga gear de rigueur, get out my nice mat, and to make it look effortless. I can float through the poses and feel accomplished, without really exerting myself. I might have a sense of accomplishment when I leave when in reality I just went through the motions. I can leave looking fresh and still stylish and reward my ‘efforts’ with a cookie or splurge on a latte. In truth, the only person I’m really fooling in this case is myself.
Yoga is just like life. I can go through the motions, making sure I ‘look good’ as I do so, or I can Lean In, a la Sheryl Sandberg. Where am I not challenging myself? Where am I settling or coasting while telling myself I’m accomplishing something? Where am I avoiding pain and therefore avoiding benefit and growth? Where am I literally just posing through my life as I’m missing the best parts? How am I using that complacency to actually pat myself on the back?
It’s hard work and it ain’t always pretty. But I know I’ll come out of it stronger and more resilient and flexible as a result. Namaste.