In 2014, my New Year’s resolution was to begin teaching yoga. I may be a bit of an anomaly with respect to resolutions. I kind of like them. Setting them actually seems to light a fire under my sitz bones. So, yes, today I do teach several yoga classes a week. But what’s interesting is that, even though I achieved what I set out to do, I still feel like I am not quite “there,” wherever “there” is. (I mean, you haven’t seen me on the cover of Yoga Journal yet, have you?). I am still focused on striving rather than experiencing the pride I should in reaching my goals.
Goals are funny that way. Just as we reach them, they seem to slip through our grasp, ensuring that we’re never quite satisfied with what we have; with the present moment.
In the yoga sutras, one of the seminal yogic texts, the sage Patanjali talks about Santosha, or contentment, saying: “As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy” (Yoga Sutra 11.42). But how many of us are ever truly content? Isn’t there always a next step; another level to which we think we need to build? Does that mean we are all destined never to experience supreme joy? Well, that just seems like a gigantic bummer.
Here’s another conundrum to consider: have you really achieved something if no one outside yourself acknowledges it? I think we all know the answer to that, but do we really know the answer? That’s a tough one for me; I am constantly looking for outside validation. Somehow, my perspective seems inconsequential when really it is the only one that should matter (cue the Stuart Smalley imitation here).
Teaching is simultaneously one of the best and the most anxiety producing things I have ever done. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, yoga is pretty important to me. Attempting to share the power of the practice with others is not something I take lightly. You’d think that would be even more of a reason for me to high five myself in the mirror for meeting the challenge head on, right? But, no, that didn’t happen. Instead, I rationalized why what I was doing wasn’t good enough. I didn’t feel validated as a teacher. My ego started getting involved. All of a sudden, criteria that hadn’t even been on my radar screen when I set out to achieve my goal became the new benchmark. I was not content with where I was.
Something similar happens frequently in asana practice. No matter how the practice makes us feel or what changes we notice in our bodies and mind, people (myself included) invariably strive for more. You achieved full wheel? Cool, but can you pick one foot off the floor while you’re in it? Once I finally (after I don’t know how many years) mastered headstand, what did I do? Started working on forearm stand. I’m three years in on that particular goal and I still haven’t “achieved” it. How could I possibly be content with my practice without a solid forearm stand?
Don’t we all have those “challenge” poses? I wonder what would happen if we let that go and just experienced the practice as it is for us, in our bodies, right this moment. Or, even more radical, experienced life as it is in any given moment.
This is where our yoga mats can be a great incubator for our rest of our life. If you can be content with wherever your body happens to be on any given day, appreciating what is able to do for you, whether or not you can stand on your pinky and wrap yourself into a pretzel, imagine how many incredible ways you might be able to bring that same practice into your off-the-mat world? Here’s a little secret: that IS the practice of yoga. Standing on your pinky is entirely irrelevant.
Clearly, I am not saying all this because I’ve got it figured out. There are many ways I do not abide comfortably in contentment (too many to count, if I’m honest). I still find my ego wrapped up in garnering accolades, particularly when it comes to something important to me, like teaching yoga. But my practice has taught me to be mindful of when I am getting caught up in that morass and to challenge that way of thinking. Most importantly, it’s taught me to not only be content but to be grateful for all that I do have, for example, the honor of teaching yoga.
Yoga comprises many things, the physical postures being only one part. Truthfully, the other practices can be far harder to practice. So, I’m thinking that the forearm stand can wait – I need to focus a bit more on getting my Santosha into working order.