Yoga & the Joy of Failure
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You see, not many people realize it, but the power of the yoga posture lies not in what you can do—but in what you can’t.
We have to remember first that yoga is about developing our ability to cultivate a sense of calm and joy in our lives. And when you stop to think of it, very few of us need help being happy when things are going our way.
As most of you know, I’ve spent decades helping people live happier, healthier lives. And people come to me for guidance for all kinds of things:
“My partner ignores me and seems indifferent to everything I do. What should I do?” “My daughter is out of control and won’t listen to me or my wife. What do you recommend?” “I have chronic back pain and can hardly concentrate at my desk at work. How can I cope?”
I’ve been asked for help from thousands upon thousands of people with all kinds of problems…but you know what I’ve never heard?
“My husband just bought me a three-carat anniversary ring and is taking me to Paris for the summer. What should I do?”
Nobody comes for help when things are going their way. It’s because we all have that pretty much covered. It’s easy to be happy when you get what you want. It’s easy to be content when you feel loved and appreciated. It’s easy to be fulfilled when your goals get achieved.
But what about the other times? When life throws us those inevitable curve balls of relationship problems, financial difficulties, or health challenges…it’s THEN, when things aren’t going our way, that we need help with our happiness.
The sad thing is that most of us have come to believe that happiness during such times isn’t even an option. Which is one reason we struggle so desperately against anything and everything that might upset the delicate balance in our lives.
But the truth is that human beings have an amazing ability to synthesize great happiness and fulfillment from nearly any circumstance…including our lives as they are. Granted, this ability is woefully underdeveloped in most of us, nevertheless it exists, and more importantly can be developed.
Right now, your experience can be one marked by the feelings of lightness, ease, and accomplishment—instead of dissatisfaction, lack, and struggle. And that’s without anything in your environment or circumstances having to change.
And this is the real promise of yoga, and by extension, the yoga posture–to help us develop that ability to synthesize happiness right here, right now.
You see here’s the open secret, a well-crafted sequence of yoga postures is designed specifically to deliver a series of irritants. Irritants that trigger those hidden tendencies that are responsible for poisoning our happiness day in and day out. For some people it’s the tendency toward self-judgment, for other it could be the habit of impatience, and still others might be tormented by a desperate need for things to be better than they currently are. Always at war with the present moment in a desperate ploy to achieve better, bigger, and more.
And honestly, for the vast majority of people, it’s not just one of these pernicious tendencies that is sabotaging our lives, but a combination.
So back to the yoga posture…
As you move through the postures, you inevitably come up against the frustration of physical limitation, the irritation of emotional impatience, or any number of other aggravations triggered by the sequence. And each and every one of these so-called disappointments present you with an opportunity to forge a new and more skillful way of being. One that yields a sense of lightness and joy rather than exasperation and dissatisfaction.
Now in the BOOTSTRAP yoga system, we do this through a unique three-step process: Recognize, Release, and Restore.
Recognize – Means to notice how your reaction to the situation does nothing to change the situation—at least in this moment. Tight hamstrings, poor balance, or even a slow paced sequence remain despite the protest of our minds. The only real effect of our reaction is to add a helping of frustration and irritation right on top of an already challenging situation. In other words, we unwittingly make things worse. And Recognizing this, is the first step.
Release – means to let go of your habit of reacting unskillfully–and to experiment with a different way of being. Rather than judging yourself for being a poor balancer, give yourself permission to be how you are—at least for now. And notice if you don’t feel more at ease. Instead of wrestling aggressively with a set of uncooperatively tight hamstrings, try moving into the tightness, while breathing and relaxing. And see if your experience of your physical limitation doesn’t improve—despite the fact that the limitation hasn’t changed at all.
It’s through this kind of curious and conscious experimentation that we pave the way to a happier and more fulfilled experience of our lives—even in the midst of the unavoidable challenges it will inevitably bring.
And lastly Restore – means to set the stage for the rather effortless and spontaneous restitution of calm and ease to both body and mind. The truth is that the human organism quite naturally seeks a homeostatic state of relaxed balance. It’s only when our maladapted habits of thinking and behavior stand in the way that the system gets thrown substantively, and often times chronically, off balance.
When we use the tools that yoga offers us to engage in the stages of Recognize and Release, we remove those tendencies of both body and mind that obstruct our well-being, and open the gates to the effervescent happiness and delight that we all crave.
And this leaves us with the great irony.
For most of us who practice yoga postures, we wish, and struggle, and strive to master the poses. We fight against bad balance and rail against weak shoulders—hoping for the day that these challenges will finally be overcome. Not realizing that as the challenges go, so does the real power of the practice.
So my invitation to you is this.
As you engage in your yoga practice, remember that yoga’s true gift to us is not in helping us to change things, but in helping us to embrace things. It’s real power is not merely in helping us to improve our lives, it’s in helping us to love our lives.
So welcome your limitation, embrace your difficulties, and use each and every one as an opportunity to sculpt you and your life into a thing permeated by joy and ease, instead of struggle.
The Recognize, Release and Restore Yoga System is part of the 300-hour and the 500-hour Yoga Pura Master-Level Teaching Training Program.
About the Author
Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized speaker, teacher, and author and is one of the most sought-after authorities on the application of yogic technology for self healing and empowerment in the nation. As the founder of one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers, Eric has long been dedicated to making ancient wisdom and techniques practical and relevant for people from all walks of life.
In addition to his work in his wellness center in Phoenix, Arizona, he is the creator of BOOTSTRAP, a yoga-based program to help troops and veterans heal from post traumatic stress as well as BetterBox, a subscription box revolutionizing the self-improvement industry. An ordained Yogacharya (preceptor of yoga), Eric is currently finishing a book on the Science of Happiness.