A student raced up to me after my class recently with an expression of dread on her face: "My calorie counter says I only burned 200! How can that be?" While I too, doubted the readout on the little device attached to her tights after a challenging 90-minute flow in a hot room, I paused long enough to carefully consider my response, which was something along the gentler lines of "ditch that silly thing already."
Because really, what good does counting calories burned in a yoga practice do for the heart? The soul? The mind? Nada, I say. But speaking from experience, this is far easier said than done. I used to analyze the hell out of every physical endeavor I partook in. Here's how I did it, and why I stopped:
1. You Win Or You Suck Mentality
During my hardcore running days (pre-yoga), I spent years tracking numbers in a futile attempt to improve my performance. Training runs were only successful if I kept the pace under 8-minute miles. Races were only worth bragging about if placed top ten in my age group. And these were supposed to be fun runs. Not races. An aggravated Achilles' tendon begging for a gentler pace forced me to slow it down or rupture it permanently. As a result, I began running without a watch. Without a race bib. And without any concern whatsoever who was ahead of or behind me. And I learned that winning isn't everything. These were some of the most enjoyable runs of my life.
2. X Number Of Handstand Attempts = Success Formula
Years ago, once I decided to nail this pose, I started recording the number of fly-ups into the wall into a journal. I gave myself one year to 'succeed' at this pose. Surely 50 a day ought to do it, right? At the end of that one year – you probably guessed it – I was still flying up into the wall. Initially angry and discouraged, I thought about the many reminders my teachers gave me to stop judging my practice. So that’s what I did.
Letting go of the journal, and the need to ‘succeed’ has made my handstand journey a far more pleasant one. And so what if I hit the wall? Life leads us into walls all the time. Our work is to simply face it head on and keep going.
3. My Hand Goes Here While My Big Toe Goes There, And Meanwhile My Left Femur Bone Is Spiraling Skyward
And on it goes, picking apart every minute detail of a pose while inwardly criticizing my inability to get every piece of it 'right'. Yes of course it is important to concentrate and refine yoga postures – I constantly encourage my students to – but it is equally important to let go and flow. Finding the balance between the two is the yogi's challenge and reward to keep the journey safe and fun.
4. Gotta Have A Goal
Countless times along the path to adulthood I was encouraged to set and achieve goals – in school, on the job, toward an athletic or artistic endeavor. And while there’s certainly a place for this (plunking down a couple grand on tuition means you really ought to set a goal to graduate), yoga is one place I try to let that go – no goals, no expectations – just an opportunity to play. Like my childhood memories of recess, when it’s time to practice a new or advanced pose, I approach the mat the same way I raced to the monkey bars when the bell rang – with a sense of thrill at moving my body in new and exciting ways.
So take some time to reflect on your overall experience on the mat. Are numbers, goals, expectations and comparisons to others sucking the joy out of it? If so, lighten up and just go with your own sweet flow and enjoy the ride. You’ll be glad you did.