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It’s widely recognised that challenging ourselves is a great way to build resilience. The thing is… if we don’t challenge ourselves, we can be sure that someone, or something else will!
Challenge Doesn’t Have to Mean Pushing Ourselves Harder
By stepping up to a challenge we can find out what we are truly capable of. This is not to say we need to push ourselves and try harder. In fact, our personal challenge may be to do less. Maybe less screen time; less sugar; less fitting things into an already over-scheduled day. As you know my favourite adage is “less is more.”
Interrupting Old Programs and Unconscious Habits
Challenging ourselves brings us out of our comfort zone and into a place where we have to do things differently. This process wakes us up into thinking more consciously and helps us to interrupt “old programs” and unconscious habits. However, the manner in which we approach a challenge really makes a difference in whether or not it is going to be helpful or harmful in the longer term.
Letting Go of Results
We have been conditioned by our culture to “get results”. What many people are realising is that this emphasis on the end goal can be counterproductive. FM Alexander (the Alexander Technique) called this “end-gaining” and recognised how it sabotaged his efforts to be free of his speech difficulties caused by stress and postural problems.
Our Body Keeps the Score
By “keeping our eye on the prize” rather than being present in the moment, we tend to miss subtle interoceptive cues and clues. These are messages that come directly from our inner being, and as such they serve us our true guide to lasting positive change. When we ignore these messages, over time our body rebels, we would see it as our body “letting us down”, or part of the ageing process. Actually, we might better see it as a protest against the imposition of us making ourselves work too hard, for too long with no let-up. This work might be physical, mental or recognised or unrecognised emotional labour. When emotions are repressed, the body has to express them somehow.
Being “Good” at Yoga
Here are some examples from my own life. When I first started practising yoga in a studio environment, before I studied to be a teacher, I wanted so very much to be seen to be “good” at yoga. I had been practising at home for around ten years with no problems. Yet, in this new environment of mirrors and lycra, my yoga ego was unleashed! Oh dear! By trying very hard to do all the things that I was being told to do I totally overrode my body’s messages and within a year or so, I was injured.
When I practised at home I had no mirrors, nothing to prove, no one to push me. It didn’t matter what I wore or how I looked. My body was stressed, anxious and in pain (I now know this was due to birth and generational trauma). Intuitively, I listened and responded to the subtle sensations and was patient and kind in my practice. This gentle inward practice led me from anxiety and tension to feeling safe, confident and calm. This is the approach of yoga practice I’d like to share with you.
End Gaining Gets Us Nowhere Fast
Sometimes we get the impression that by working harder we’ll achieve a particular goal: the pain will go away quicker, or the muscles will get stronger, the ailment will recede, or the weight will come off… If we have these goals in mind, then we are usually not in the right frame of mind for listening inwardly. We are in danger of “end-gaining” and as F.M. Alexander found, this leads nowhere.
The Goal is the Follow the Path
There is a beautiful saying in the I Ching (an ancient system of divination, based on the same principles as tai chi and the martial arts). When considering ambition and goal setting, It says…
“Brighten your bright virtue… the goal is to follow the path.”
Another way of saying this is, rather than being fixated on the destination, be present with the full experience of where you are on your journey. This takes humility, patience and tolerance to adversity. Acknowledge and accept your sensory experience and your responses to it, whether you are walking through clover in the sunshine or gorse bushes in the rain.