“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” -Marianne Williamson
When I first started practicing yoga, I was a big ball of stress and tightness. I started off practicing to videos in my home because I was too embarrassed for others to see me. After all, all the videos and pictures I’d seen showed these beautiful men and women, with perfect bodies, who appeared to have descended from Gumby in some way. How could I compete with that?
Eventually, though, I realized I needed a live teacher. Someone who could help me progress and who could make sure I was doing things properly. So I swallowed my pride and went to my first “live” class. The first thing stressed by the instructor was to make sure that no matter what, we honor our bodies and let go of competition — both with ourselves and with others. During that first class, I really did try my best not to compare what I looked like to what everyone else looked like, but wasn’t very successful. But I did walk away feeling great in both body and mind, so I kept coming back.
Eventually, it got easier to make it through a class and just focus on what I was doing “in the moment”, not worrying about what others were doing. But I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, when I go to a teacher training or a yoga workshop, I find myself feeling that old fear as I look around the room at all of Gumby’s descendants. Sometimes, the ugly monster rears its head and screams, “Melanie, why are you here? Your body will NEVER be able to do that!” When that happens, if I’m not careful, I find myself pushing my body past my edge and I end up miserable and/or injured.
I feel like I take a step back in my practice whenever I do things like that, but I guess it’s just human nature. We naturally compare ourselves to others in a variety of situations: work, sports, parenting, marriage — the list goes on and on.
In yoga, you can’t tell how advanced someone is by the way they look in their poses. Only the peace of a person’s heart, mind, and spirit can reveal this. And when we’re focused in this realm, then we’ll find that we suddenly aren’t conerned so much about better/worse, beginner/advanced, etc. When we can master this — this letting go of competition — on our mats, it will transition into our lives off the mat as well.
Since November, I’ve really been working hard in my yoga and in my running to just do what I can do. To stop worrying about what my yoga buddies have progressed to, to stop worrying about how my running buddies who used to be at my pace are suddenly so much faster. And I have noticed that over the past two months, I’ve been really good at just doing the best I can do. I’ve really noticed that lately, I don’t care anymore about how I compare to others in terms of flexibility or speed, and it feels great! I feel like it’s finally transitioning into my professional life as well, and it feels amazing! For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m doing the best job I can do, and I leave work feeling good about the work I am doing. It’s nice to see my yoga off the mat more and more in my life.
My challenge for you this week, especially if you tend to be a competitive person like me, is to quiet the competitive beast inside of you for at least one day. Just one time this week, just set a goal for yourself, and listen to your mind and your body as you work towards it. Try to meet your goal without worrying about how you compare to others, and don’t compete with yourself and end up pushing yourself past your mental or physical edge.
I’m curious to see how those of you who take me up on this challenge do. It wasn’t easy for me, but it definitely got easier and easier as time passed. Please feel free to provide your feedback in the comments section, or you can contact me privately. Don’t get frustrated if you aren’t successful at first…it takes practice, sometimes a lot of practice, to let go of competition. But I promise you that if you work hard at it, you WILL be successful. And the resulting sense of freedom that comes with it is worth every bit of frustration it may take to get there.