Do you sense a conflict between the idea of being happy with yourself the way you are, and the pressure to push, improve, and achieve? Are you ever accused of being overly ambitious and goal-oriented? Or do you worry that you’re stagnating, and too comfortable with stasis?
The studio space is where we practice our lives outside the studio space. You’ve probably heard that your mat is a mirror. But in yoga class we get what appear to be mixed messages: we’re told to observe ourselves without judgement; we are taught to recognize our innate perfection, and not compare ourselves with others. At the same time, we’re implored to find our edges, to embrace discomfort, and to maybe just try this handstand hop. Well, which is it? Are we good enough already, or do we have to improve?
This is my working hypothesis: you can use your yoga as straight-up maintenance, just like you brush your teeth. Or you can use your yoga as a measuring stick for your personal tenacity, fitness, and dedication. But somewhere in the middle of that continuum lies the sweet spot: contentment. Contentment happens when we’re trying because we want to. Trying out of a of fear of failure or to prove something to somebody, as an athlete looks for a perceived slight for motivation, is not right effort. Effort is its own reward. Trying is an act of faith in and of itself. It’s why we recycle even though we know it won’t save the world: because the other option is giving up.
Contentment doesn’t happen when we’re just habitually going through the motions. The unthinking routine is complacency. Complacency begets entropy. We slide backwards, and then wonder what happened. How did I get so out of shape? When did I stop (running, writing, painting, doing that thing I love)? Why don’t I feel good? Why aren’t I happy?
But happiness doesn’t happen when we achieve something, either. Just like we’re not really happy when we get the shiny thing we’ve been wanting, we’re not happy for long when we finally nail that handstand. If you live for goals, nothing’s ever going to be enough, and contentment will always be just out of reach. It’s the journey, it’s the trying, that makes us feel our lives. There’s no end goal, and yet, when we stop trying and growing, pieces of us begin to die.
The answer, as usual, seems to be finding balance. Look for that sweet spot, somewhere between mindless complacency and mindless striving. Love yourself as you are, but show yourself that love by making an effort. Love is a verb, and in action love looks like the contentment we find when we try.