The little thrill a gold star brings is a fascinating phenomenon. Though I’m entirely too many years removed from those grade school days when gold stars were used to reward achievement, my inner child still giggles with glee at the prospect of seeing that shining symbol placed next to my name every time I attend a yoga class. It’s like a big hug, or a high-five. It is positive reinforcement with metallic, five-pointed brilliance – such a simple, yet perfect, idea for instilling some child-like excitement into a “get back to the mat” contest. About a month ago I decided to participate in Yoga Bhoga’s 30-day September Yoga Challenge. I wrote my name on the chart on the wall and suddenly I was part of a community effort. Just like that. It wasn’t competitiveness that motivated me (I knew my chances of being among the top practitioners were slim); rather, it was the challenge to myself to finally fully commit to the practice of yoga with whole-hearted effort.
I had just started a job a few blocks away from the studio and would be in the neighborhood daily. Plus, I had received an unlimited month of yoga for my birthday. With the stars aligned just so, I basically had no more excuses for being a fly-by-night yogi. Happily, I was able to go from attending class maybe once a week to a total fifteen days out of thirty. It was a gargantuan leap for me. I’m still celebrating.
At last, I had taken the plunge. It was just what I needed and just in time. The call to grow my practice coincided not only with the transition into fall but also with my own transition away from the trappings of stress and anxiety toward a more mindful and accepting mental state. It will be a lifetime work in progress, no doubt, but knowing I am on the right path to inner peace has made all the difference.
A little background: In June I quit my job intent upon forging a new path toward work that would make my heart sing. The very day I put in my notice, however, that courage and optimism and faith in my own inner guide gave way to nearly complete panic as I stared into the great unknown of my future. My fight-or-flight response kicked in with full force and I have been experiencing insomnia and anxiety off and on since.
This happened once before in my life, three years ago at the end of my first semester in graduate school. With papers, presentations, and finals looming, and my perfectionist standards impressed seemingly upon my very soul, I froze. I couldn’t see a way through. I stopped sleeping, my insecurities mounted, and I became a shell of my former self. At this time it was medication rather than meditation that helped me rebound, but I also had an enlightening dream that I return to to this day for its simple wisdom.
I was wading in the sea when suddenly I saw an enormous, positively treacherous wave rising above me. My immediate reaction was panic, but then in an instant came two friends on either side of me and they told me to swim. We swam, the three of us together, ferociously and soon we were cresting and riding safely into shore that very wave I thought would pummel me. This dream showed me the importance of community, commitment, and work. With the support of friends, my commitment to swim despite my fear and the actual work involved in doing it all lead to my safety in this case. The September yoga challenge has shown me the significance of these very same values.
Community: In coming to the studio more often and with more intention, I started feeling a part of something greater than myself. Instead of skirting the sidelines, slipping in and out of class with only minor acknowledgement of those around me, I accepted my place as part of the whole. I started getting to know others and let others get to know me. The realization that we’re not so separate after all has been a comfort and a joy to me.
Commitment: It is often said about yoga, meditation, and other forms of practice, that half the work is showing up. That has certainly been my greatest challenge when it comes to yoga. This past month has been a great reminder of the rewards just showing up brings. Committing to do something and following through with it gave me such a sense of satisfaction and showed me what I was capable of. It’s been a confidence-boosting “yes you can” kind of experience that motivates me to be bold and commit to other kinds of practice I’ve perpetually put off.
Work: Then there is the work, or practice, itself: Staying in the present moment; breathing through uncomfortable positions and transitions; accepting my body as it is; trying new things; engaging my core; staying with the breath... Some days the practice was easier than others. On difficult days I reminded myself that there was no goal beyond the practice itself. That accepting my practice as it is, coming to the mat as I am, is both the ultimate challenge and the ultimate reward.