Goalsetting and yoga

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We live in a goal oriented world, one where we are constantly working towards something. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, their goals and their achievements. Sometimes that makes us feel good and other times it makes us feel absolutely shit. It’s our ego that gets inflated or our ego that gets hurt.

So what do we say in yoga about setting goals and achieving them? The most important lesson comes from the Bhagavad Gita.

“You have a right to the work alone, not to its fruits” – Bhagavad Gita 2.47

The sentence goes on by saying “You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind”.

Since the future is unknown, we don’t know what the outcome will be, we can only guess for it. When we set goals and we are merely focused on achieving that goal, without allowing it to be whatever it will be, we set ourselves up for disappointment, failure and suffering.

So what does this really mean? Let me explain this with a story:

I’ve planted an apple tree in my garden, because I would love to have apples that I have grown myself. I prefer my apples to be red and yellow, juicy and a little sweet. I did my research to find the perfect kind of tree and so with the upmost care I’ve planted it. In the next couple of months I’ve taken care of the tree, by watering it, by changing the soil, by protecting it from the wind, the hail storms, the drought, the termites, etc. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I did my work.

One spring morning I wake up and there are apples on my tree. I am beyond excited, jump out of my bed, run outside and admire dozens of red yellow apples.

I pick a couple of them and take them inside. Before I a take a bite, I remember how I wanted them to taste, but I also realize that it might be very different. And so to not get disappointed or overly proud I tell myself the following:

  • The taste of the apple can be what I wanted, it can be different but equally good, it can be better or it can be worse.
  • Whatever it will be, I’ve put in the work every day
  • I’ve tried to protect it from external factors caused by nature, but I am not sure what the effects have been.
  • The soil I used was the best I could find, but the weather conditions in my region weren’t the perfect ones for this apple tree.

All we can do is put in the work in the moment. We can set a goal for ourselves and take the steps necessary towards that goal, but we should let go of the outcome. Which is easier said then done, right?

How is it possible to do something you care about without feeling attached to the result?

When you do the work for the sake of the work itself, instead of doing it for that one desired outcome, you are less likely to become disappointed if things didn’t go the way you had planned or hoped. You will suffer less from stress and anxiety about the outcome and are able to accept the outcome, whatever it will be.

When you get too caught up in the successes or failures, you trigger the negative side of your ego. You can become so goal oriented that you forget to maintain the integrity of the task. Or, you can become scared, paralyzed, freaked-out which leads to you making bad decisions or no decisions at all.

Detaching yourself from the fruits of your work, is detaching yourself from your ego. You are detaching yourself from your ego’s need to claim your successes or to the feeling of defeat or fear of failure.
Obviously this isn’t an easy task, we all get caught up in it and it is not something we learn overnight. We need to work for it; we need to create the awareness. And that work is done over a lifetime, week by week, day by day, hour by hour.

In the end we have to come to an understanding that you have to do what you love and love what you do. It is liberating, because there is space to be genuine. And if you can detach from the desired results, people will notice this and admire you for whatever the outcome of your work will be. Because every successful person has faced failure, but they have learned that failure is not something to be scared of, it is a way for us to learn, a way for us to move forward, it is simply another outcome of the work we have done.

 

 

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Keep stretching!

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One of the most common reasons I hear for people to do yoga is stretching. Either they want to stretch, because they feel stiff, or they love to stretch and want to become more and more flexible. Yoga is great for that; it will stretch you on the mat and off the mat.

The feeling of a good stretch is satisfying and the contentment after a yoga class is rewarding. And that is because in yoga we don’t only stretch our bodies, we also stretch our minds, our boundaries & our breath. When we are able to combine all the different stretches in our yoga class, we can deepen tremendously in the pose:

The body opens up by practicing and will stretch deeper over time. We learn how to control our breath patterns and lengthen it when we need to hold a pose or create space in that pose. We always look for the boundaries and limits in our bodies and push them, touch them and see if we can move them a little further each time. We don’t march over our limits, but we stretch it in a comfortable way. And lastly, we stretch our mind, by learning how to control our patterns of thought through staying in the moment. Yoga teaches you that a laser sharp focus will improve your practice, creates a deeper connection to yourself and create a stillness in the mind. A stillness we can come back to whenever we are stressed, irritated or lack focus.

To me, the most interesting and biggest stretch is off-mat. How do you take what you have learned about yourself on the mat to your daily life? How can you make yoga something more than a work-out? How do you stretch the boundaries of what you believe you can achieve?

One big lesson I have had in the past couple of years, was that I was more concerned with what would come next, then actually appreciating what I had achieved so far. Every day I am growing and developing as a teacher, which creates bigger goals and more dreams about what I would like to achieve. I have made my master plan and every few months I look at where I am, what needs to be changed and how I should change my course of work. However the great part of it is, that I am able to also enjoy and be grateful for what I’ve achieved so far. I have set up building blocks that show me my progress. Every little step is one in the right direction on my path.

As a teacher you need to develop, extend your knowledge, understand the bodies in front of you, be able to explain different types of poses and offer classes that are challenging and satisfying. You need to be able to step out of your comfort zone to explore what else you have to offer. You need to push your boundaries and don’t take it personal when something doesn’t work out for you. Just like deepening a pose, sometimes you click, you got yourself a step further in your practice and sometimes the time and pose are just not right. All you are left with is take a deep breath, take in your lessons learned and move on.

Understanding the lesson and moving on is easier said than done, but it is the only way to test if you still gives life the opportunity to show you what it has to offer. It is the only way to discover if you actually stretch yourself or if you are led by your fears; your fear to fail, your fear for the unknown, your fear to lose face, and so forth. . Just like we do in our poses. When I practice a handstand in the middle of the room, I am afraid to fall and hurt somebody, I am afraid to fail which paralyses me to do the pose and I am afraid to lose face. I am a yoga teacher, shouldn’t I be able to do this pose easily? What would other people think of me? So all I can do is practice, learn how to fall, learn to accept my practice where it is and celebrate every small goal in my journey upwards.

So every stretch is one closer towards yourself. Every stretch is one closer to what you want to achieve. Using the mat as your playing field to test out what you can do in real life. But in the end it all start with being appreciative and grateful for what you have, your achievements both professionally and personally. Don’t only look ahead to where you want to be and don’t get caught in looking back to what was. Be in the moment, celebrate and keep stretching!

 

 

Breaking apart

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I believe you have two types of people. There’s the ones that look at people that do just a little less than them and because of that they feel good about themselves. They have confidence and trust. The second type are the ones who look at the people he or she considers better, and see them as a goal, something to reach towards. The pitfall of the second type is that you often feel like you are not good enough.

One type is not better than the other, it is just a different approach, a different way to evaluate ourselves. How we pin ourselves in this world. And even though we know that comparing is often not useful at all, we still do it, as humans. Because we feel the need to fit in somewhere, we feel the need to know where we stand.

Me, I am type number 2. I always look at the people ahead of me, see what they do, figure out what they have done and see what things I can learn from that. It works for me, it makes me think about my plans and dreams in a bigger perspective. However, it makes me struggle too. Because I am also a type that sets their mind to something and then is determined to fix it, determined to reach that goal.

Yoga in the past few years has taught me that this way of looking at things also makes me suffer. Why? Because I am ambitious, I always try to reach more, and I have a goal in mind which should be a 5 year plan, but instead, I make it something I should achieve in weeks or months. And that is where the suffering comes in, I makes me feel like I am failing, like I am not working hard enough, that I am not good enough, that I am not worth of what I am trying to achieve.

At least, that what is was until a year ago. That’s when I learned and really connected to the idea of breaking it up, breaking the goals apart. Because how can you ever be satisfied if your goals are too big to achieve at once? So I have a system, simple, but clear: every big goal has at least 5 steps, 5 minor goals in it. And that minor goal becomes my real goal, my big goal for the moment. That way I can stay on track, stay happy and be content with my achievements.

So as a practical example: My dream is to one day have inspired enough people to be able to set up a yoga community. One where you can practice together, one where you can find your friends, one where you can share knowledge, share food, share drinks, share fun, share a passion.

I broke it up in steps, and the first step is my main goal: LEARN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE for 1 year. Teach, teach, teach, study, spend time with teachers, work in the yoga world, get connected, and share it back.

I am now 4 months in and I am learning like crazy, teaching many hours, and I feel grateful. Yes, there are days that I lose this goal out of sight, days where I feel I have not done enough, days where I feel like a failure. But this has gone from almost every day to some days. I am happy, I am free of my own pressure, I am learning.every.single.day.

So why am I writing this? Because I believe too many people around me suffer from the same struggle. And the funny thing is, we often think it is the external pressure, from friends, family and society, to achieve these goals. Until you hit that moment where you realize, all the pressure comes from within, from our own beliefs, our own self-image, our own internal motivators and drivers. And just to be clear, this does not mean you cannot have big massive goals for yourself. Please do, they are immense and good internal drivers, but be aware of what they do to your state of mind and your daily happiness.

Break it up, break them apart and break through a cycle of suffering and break into one of happiness and a sense of achievement. Because you are worthy of anything you want to achieve.