When I was in my twenties living in San Francisco, I went to Bikram yoga 4-5 times a week. One morning, as I was filling my water bottle for the 115 degree class, the 80-year-old woman from whom I rented a room said all this yoga was giving me, "a really great ass." I lived in the Castro, one of world's havens for gay men, so she was the only one around town who seemed to notice. At that time, though, my sense of pride came not from how I looked, but how capable I was of doing all those poses. Those, poor old people, I thought, they'll never get it.
Learning Humility in Baltimore
Well, time passes and life has a way of teaching us humility one way or another. This week I attended a Yoga Class in Baltimore. Hoping for a nice 1.5 hour stretching class after a few weeks of swim club, I found myself sandwiched among 30 versions of me in my 20s. I was sure they were all planted there to haunt me. They twisted and put their feet in the air, while I grasped for my water bottle.
At the beginning of the class, the very kind teacher told us think about on our intention for the class. I just wanted to stretch out and invest a bit in my body so that I could live a long, healthy and active life. I was inspired by Ben Ferencz who I interviewed this past week. He's the oldest living Nuremberg prosecutor. He went with General Patton when the death camps were liberated and then gather piles of evidence against the Nazi leadership. He wasn't even thirty when he served as a lead prosecutor.
I called at 9am, but he asked that I call him back because he needed to finish his regimen of 110 morning pushups before breakfast. He's 98. He basically kills all excuses. He works out because he wants to end war before he dies. He's a busy man. I tell him I'm on his team, he isn't working alone.
To prepare us for this effort to bring peace to the world, I chose yoga for the day.
Mid-way through the class we were asked to do a posture that required putting our feet over our arms, wrapping them around and then lifting off the floor. She gently said,
"What comes up in your mind when you feel yourself unable to do a certain pose?"
For me? FAILURE!! Totally failure, fear of aging, weakness...Ahhhhhh!
Probably, what should have come up was "If we were meant to have our feet behind our ears, they would have grown there."
After a few moments for reflection she said, think back to your intention for the class. Ah, right, to live long and prosper. It was amazing, as soon as I remembered why I wanted to attend the class, I didn't worry as much about my inability to do the pose. Of course, I had the occasional smug thought about my neighbor "Yeah, well you can do that pose but I can smoke you in the pool or on rollerblades." A thought of a 12-year-old. Overall, though, I was just able to relax and enjoy the class.
I just wanted to share this because a number of my really talented friends and colleagues are finding themselves super challenged at work. They are facing huge learning curves in new workplaces, not because they are failures but because they are not. They have been chosen because they are successful people. I just hope they remember what their intentions are.
What do they want? Why are they there?
Focus on this and let go of trying to measure themselves against the girl in the hot-pink yoga outfit spinning on her head. Eventually she will have to come down.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Enjoy these short blogs and videos designed to bring you a little cheer.
My other blog Language of Conflict addresses the importance of word choice and narration in conflict.
Finish and Flourish supports writers struggling to complete projects.