For the past few months, I’ve been struggling with my mindset during yoga classes because I’ve spent far too much time comparing myself to others who have been practicing far longer than my meager three years. Our studio has an “open door” approach to classes, meaning that there are no divisions based upon skill level. All are welcome to join the instructors on a journey toward mindfulness and physical wellbeing, so you’d think I’d be more accepting of myself and my limitations, right? Sadly though, I’ve found myself on more than one occasion looking around at the people with their heads on the floor or legs over the heads and that’s when the internal bashing starts. What makes you think you should be here? You’ll never be able to do that! Why are you even trying? This totally defeats the purpose of yoga’s mindfulness-based practice, but for some reason, I’ve been doing it a lot lately. When I discussed my feelings with my instructor, she asked me a question the answer to which would have been obvious to astronauts on the space station – what will serve you better in life, plow pose or the inner peace you gain from yoga? I knew she was right but that still didn’t help much. I was still beating myself up. What did help, and is continuing to help, was a PBS documentary about the life of Siddartha Gautama, who became Guatama Budda, the Enlightened One. I was initially interested because I knew nothing about Buddism, and I wasn’t prepared for it to have such an impact on me.
Siddartha Gautama was born into a royal family somewhere between 643 and 563 BCE, and at his birth, his mother had a revelation before she died that her son would either be a great leader or great teacher. His father wanted him to be the first ruler of a unified India and closed his son away in the palace, catering to the boy’s every whim while sheltering him from life’s negativity. Eventually, though, Siddartha wanted to see the outside world and was confronted with human suffering in the forms of old age, disease and death. Traumatized, Siddartha decided he could overcome suffering by casting off his old life and becoming an ascetic. At one point, in desperate pursuit of enlightenment, he ate one grain of rice a day, drank his own urine and stood on one leg for hours at a time while he meditated. After nearly dying without achieving the answers he was looking for, he found he had received the answer he needed instead. Revealed to Siddartha Guatama was the notion that extremes on either side, indulgence or self-torture, weren’t the way to transcend suffering, and he created the idea of the “middle way”. In essence, Siddharta was the first human to accept the “moderation is key” notion that so many of us try to adhere to today.
As fascinating as Budda’s story is, what does this have to do with my yoga practice? The way I look at it now is that there are two ways I can handle my inferiority complex: I can either push myself to try to do what the others do and risk injury, or I can get so frustrated I give up altogether. Neither of those options is acceptable to me, so I am striving to find my own “middle way” so that I can challenge myself and grow in a healthy, positive way that doesn’t put me in a funk. Some days I feel accomplished and some days, my body just refuses to do what I ask it to, but instead of getting down on myself I’m starting to focus on the positives and how much I’ve accomplished in three years. In 2014, I couldn’t hold a plank for more than a few seconds, and now I’m not only able to hold a plank for about 2 1/2 minutes, but I can do a few push ups and have upper body strength for the first time in my life. There are limitations I face- I’m 43 and have a bad shoulder and there’s no way I should have ever compared myself to someone half my age who still has all their cartilage in the right places. It seems silly to me now that I got into this funk, and I’m proud that I am able to let go of stress easier and have more energy than I used to. I’m focusing on the positives now and if I can stay out of my head and keep this up, I’ll be doing just fine.