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Posts Tagged ‘discipline’

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Recently, I’ve returned to yoga, taking a few classes at two local studios after a hiatus of more than two years. I am definitely what you’d call a beginner yogi: I’m familiar with most of the basic poses, but in every class I encounter new terms, new twists (literal and figurative), and new ways of putting the poses together. My body is not naturally particularly flexible, and I am out of practice, so I have to be patient with myself. More specifically, I have to overcome the twin obsessions of what Natalie Goldberg calls my “monkey mind”: perfectionism and the need for validation.

My first yoga teacher, McKay, used to tell us, “There is no judgment or competition in yoga.” That statement always felt like an exhale to me, a huge relief. I repeat it to myself every time I’m on the yoga mat. The lack of competition is one of my favorite things about yoga, one of the reasons I look forward to yoga classes, rather than dreading them the way I used to dread those physical fitness tests in elementary school.

Even with McKay’s words in my head, I still find myself glancing around at the other students, or at the teacher. I’m not judging their practice, usually; I’m judging my own. Are my toes pointed in the right direction? Are my legs up high enough? Do I look stupid with my hair falling down around my face? Am I sweating more than anyone else? (The answer is usually yes.) And the question underneath all those: Am I doing it right?

Because I’m relatively new to yoga, I am only really confident of a few poses: plank, cat/cow, downward facing dog. When I twist myself into triangle or pigeon or some other more intense pose, I always automatically wonder: is this right? Sometimes the wondering continues: should I bend this way, stretch that way, lean forward or back, breathe in or out? Sometimes I’m able to quiet the inner chatter and hold the pose, simply be there, breathe through the discomfort. At other times, I glance toward the front of the room, wanting the instructor to give me a gold star, to say, Yes. You’re doing it right.

As you know if you have practiced yoga, being right isn’t the point. The practice, the very act of showing up and doing the poses, is the point. Aiming for the right form is good, of course; it stretches the muscles properly and helps prevent injury. But perfection is not the goal. The goal is to be present, to exercise your body, to calm your spirit. The goal is to do, and to be.

I run into these twin obsessions at other places in my life, most particularly in my writing. I have always been good at fulfilling assignments, and I’ve earned plenty of gold stars for doing so over the years. But now that I’m not in school anymore, now that I write mostly for myself, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to tell me if I’m doing it right. I can make massive mistakes, spend hours working on sentences I’ll eventually throw away. Without a built-in system for validation, the possibilities are sometimes frighteningly endless.

But in yoga, as in writing, that lack of judgment, competition and validation provides a quiet freedom, the chance to experiment and find out how a pose or a technique works for me. There is a place in both arenas for honing and refining my craft. But for now, what I need is to turn off the judgmental voice in my head, lean into the yoga pose (or into the blank page), and practice. I need to show up, so I can do, and be – without relying on anyone else to tell me I’m doing it right (or wrong).

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Some of you may remember I gave up Twitter for Lent this year. I confess my motivations weren’t all high-mindedly spiritual. Far from it, in fact. I knew I wouldn’t, for example, spend the time I usually spent on Twitter praying, or reading the Bible – most of the time I spend on Twitter is at work. And I am under no illusions about Twitter’s importance in the grand scheme of things – the fact that I even had to worry about giving it up is a problem of privilege.

I mainly wanted to do two things: give up something for Lent that demanded a lot of my attention, however trivial it seems; and break the cycle I’d gotten into of hopping onto Twitter every few minutes during the workday, scrolling and clicking links ad infinitum. I wanted to use Twitter as more of a tearoom, as Marianne says, rather than a constant stream of distraction that left me feeling frazzled and guilty for wasting so much time.

Since Easter, I’ve been tweeting again – though I find I have less to say these days. And while I still sometimes fall into the scrolling trap, I’ve at least gotten better at catching myself when I start clicking multiple links or reading dozens upon dozens of tweets (as opposed to the freshest 20 tweets or so).

It’s not ideal, but it’s a step. Catching myself, and refocusing, sure beats mindlessly giving into the urge and letting my time-wasting go unchecked. I guess this is what they call self-discipline.

Anyone else struggle with the distractions of social media (or other distractions)? How do you catch yourself and refocus?

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I haven’t tweeted in two weeks. I kind of miss it, though not as much as I thought I would. Sometimes I think of sound bites or quips that I would normally tweet, and then I remember I’m not tweeting till Easter. The oh-so-clever (usually snarky, rarely brilliant) comments in my head drift away. (Occasionally I post them to Facebook instead.)

I’m sure I’m getting more actual work done at work, though a small part of my job does involve social media (coordinating more than participating). And I know I’m spending less time online in the evenings, with fewer links to click, fewer conversations to participate in. (And I’m spending more time listening to my husband play guitar, which is what he’s adding in for Lent. To each their own.)

I’m realizing how often I looked to Twitter as a distraction, a brain screen-saver, something to fill my day, a chance to consume instead of create. And I’m trying not to let my Google Reader take its place.

Madeleine L’Engle, my literary idol, points out in Two-Part Invention, “We have allowed the media to call us consumers – ugly. No! I don’t want to be a consumer. Anger consumes. Forest fires consume. Cancer consumes.” In her acceptance speech for the Margaret Edwards Award, she added, “I want us to be nourishers.” Yes. I want to be a nourisher, a creator, someone who brings life into the world instead of simply absorbing – or, worse, wrecking – what’s already there.

Lofty goals for a single Lenten period, I know. And when I go back to tweeting, I’m sure I will still be susceptible to distraction. But I want to remember what it feels like to have a little extra silence and space in my life. And to create more often, instead of consuming.

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