Does your yoga teach you how to FALL?

image source: Lululemon

In honor of the coming fall weather, my favourite season of the year, I thought I’d write a little something about falling.

You see, in most of my classes, when it comes time for some balancing poses, I see a lot of students concentrating on trying not to fall. Particularly in Tree Pose, (or Vrksasana if you want to get technical), because it demands that we stand on one leg, instead of the two we are used to. For many of us, something that looks so simple can actually be quite challenging, especially if you have not had occasion to stand on one leg a lot lately. And so I watch students of all ages set their faces with a determination not to fall; they will balance on one leg even if it means holding their breath and waving their arms to keep themselves steady.

So I ask you: what’s wrong with falling?

Falling equals failure, in many yoga students’ minds. But the reality is that this is where the true yoga happens. Do you curse and mentally beat yourself up when you fall out of a yoga pose? Or do you approach it as part of the learning process, a way to deeper understanding and the realization that oh, that’s where my limit is?

Practice is the effort to secure steadiness, says Patanjali in 1.13 of the Yoga Sutras. This is true both in the physical sense, and in the mind. When I teach tree pose, I walk students through the initial alignment, and then I focus on teaching them how to fall. If you practice tree pose regularly, you will eventually become steadier on your legs. I don’t need to teach this — it will happen naturally over time. What is harder is learning to cultivate steadiness of spirit. Fall with a smile. Fall with a laugh. Fall with acceptance. Fall with curiosity.

Because everyone falls at some point in life. How do you choose to fall?

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I gave up coffee: why you have to fail to succeed.

I’d like to share something with you that I’ve learned: if you want to change a habit you have to be prepared to fail.

I love coffee. The taste, the smell, and the coffee shop scene all just draw me in like a fish on a lure. But I don’t drink it. In fact, I gave up coffee almost three years ago, and caffeine entirely more than two years ago – but before you go thinking that I made a ‘lifestyle choice’ so that I could be more ‘yogic’ or something, let me tell you: I did NOT want to give up coffee.

A number of years ago, I was what you’d call an average coffee drinker. One or two cups per day, a latte and a regular coffee perhaps, and everything seemed quite normal. But slowly over time, without noticing at first, I started to become stressed in a bad way. After trying the medicated route, I decided it wasn’t for me and started paying attention to my life to try to discover the reason for my stress. It wasn’t until I spent a morning in my office having an anxiety attack after drinking a large coffee that it occurred to me there may be a connection between caffeine and my anxiety problems. So I decided on a test: give up coffee for one week, and see how I feel.

One day and one massive headache later, I completely hated this plan. But, being the achiever that I am, I decided to stick with it anyway, and by the end of the week I felt okay. Not miraculous, but not bad. Still, I loved coffee and craved it so when the week was over, I went out and got a coffee. And boy did I feel awful. Shortly after drinking it, I felt stressed, incredibly anxious, and just all around bad. Immediately swore off coffee again, and as the weeks turned into months, realized that I was giving up coffee for good. Was I happy about that? No. But did I feel better? Definitely. And the farther away I got from drinking coffee regularly, the more I started to notice how other caffeinated drinks were affecting me too, so I gave those up too. And that was that.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple. Here’s the truth: during the first year or so, I probably had a coffee or decaf coffee once every six to ten weeks, when I was really missing it. The next year after that I maybe had a caffeinated drink once every few months. I was breaking my no-caffeine rule, but I’m glad I did. Because every time I broke it, I felt awful and remembered exactly why I quit caffeine in the first place. I would chastise myself: “Why did you do this? You know caffeine makes you feel terrible!” and re-commit with even more determination that next time, I would just say no. Because of this the lure of coffee became less and less appealing over time, as I became more and more determined not to feel like that again. Now I can’t even remember the last time that I had a caffeinated drink; I don’t consider it as an option anymore.

The point here is that I had to fail every now and then in order to succeed. Just like sometimes in yoga you have to fall out of a pose before you can get it right, because that’s how you learn where your limits are. We have to experience the bad in our lives in order to remember why the good is good. Failing reminds us where our limits are, and when too much is too much – something that you need to know in order to succeed.

So next time you are trying to accomplish something, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, fail repeatedly. You’ll already be that much closer to success than the person who never tried.