In Yoga Thoughts

Long-haul: a period of years, rather than days, weeks or months. – Cambridge English Dictionary

Here in Philadelphia Eagles country at the start of football season, emotions (at least in my house) are almost more fraught than they were last winter as the Superbowl approached. Last year, as the Eagles won their way through their long season, it was exciting and surprising, but there were absolutely no expectations. Only hope. After all, while the team had periodically had great seasons, they’d never before won a Superbowl.

It turns out being the guys on top rather than the underdogs feels a lot different. As this season gets underway, our city’s excitement is definitely mixed with expectation. And that makes the hope of victory feel, somehow, more stressful.

This type of post-victory experience is not relegated to professional sports. Think about the pressure J.K. Rowling surely felt as she embarked on her first book after her juggernaut Harry Potter series. Or the way M. Night Shyamalan must have felt working on the movie after his out-of-the-blue smash, The Sixth Sense. I know my lawyer husband has felt this way after getting a big win for a client. He describes it being a little harder to get up and go back to work the next morning.

There is no doubt that being on top feels amazing. To reach the pinnacle of what you do leaves you feeling breathless and a little invincible. It’s the inner equivalent of standing on a mountain peak, arms spread wide with a huge grin on your face as you let the thought wash over you – “Victory is mine!”

But life is a long-haul journey. If you’re lucky, that peak you’re standing on is one of many along your way. As every hiker knows, if you climb a peak, you must also climb down. That requirement is perhaps less obvious in life, but it remains true. There are highs and there are lows and none of them last forever. Mostly, there is journey.

Nothing has taught me this lesson more profoundly than working on a challenging posture in my yoga practice. Over the years, the posture that I’m working on has changed a hundred times. What has not changed is that a moment always arrives where I succeed – where I’m standing on the yoga equivalent of a mountain peak or Superbowl podium thinking (sometimes yelling) “Victory is mine!”

What has also not changed is that there is always (sadly, always) a “next morning” when victory is wrenched from my grasp and I am unable to recreate my feat from the previous day or days. Do I throw in the towel or wad up my mat? Nope. I take a deep breath and get back to work. I trust that my practice is a long-haul journey. I rely on my past experience that even the most elusive postures eventually become reliably accessible. I lean on my confidence that my current “failure,” like my earlier “victory,” is but another step in a journey that I very much hope lasts a lifetime.

So I offer this advice to the Eagles, Eagles fans and all of us out there doing what we love:

After you celebrate (and, please, celebrate with all your heart!), hold your victories lightly. Trust that there will be many of them along your way. Know that there will also be setbacks and a few failures. Ups and downs are simply part of your journey. Remember that focusing on past successes can generate the pressure and stress of expectations. Instead, shift your focus to the long-haul. Focus instead on gaining the wisdom of experience, rising to various challenges and stretching toward new goals. When you do, you’ll rediscover the joy of the journey with which you fell in love in the first place.

In short, when we set aside our expectations of specific outcomes, what we’re actually doing is choosing to stay open to surprising developments – such as a Superbowl win, a blockbuster novel or even a yoga posture you never thought you’d get.

Happy travels to you for the long-haul!

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