Monday was my first day back on the yoga mat in quite a while. My temper had been decidedly sour and my mood completely down. Meditating, stretching, and testing my limits seemed like a good way to try to shake it all off. Two of my friends/coworkers were going to the class, making the timing feel even more fortuitous. I'm not sure why exactly I'd fallen off the devoted yogi wagon. It always calms and centers me and it has continuously felt like something I'm good at. So it was with a great deal of relish that I unrolled my mat in the darkened room and stretched and relaxed to the lilt of a penny flute. I was in the front row, but it would be fine. I was ready for this. The teacher guided us into our first stretches and breathing exercises, encouraging us to set our intention.
With a few quiet words, we started our first guided flow, where I began to flounder. Swinging my leg from plank to the runner's lunge, I felt like I was in my own way. I immediately pictured an elephant struggling to free herself from a sucking mud puddle . Pulling into balance poses, I found myself relying on a nearby table for stabilization. In the front row, I was making a fool of myself, feeling like all eyes were on me and mentally mocking my incompetence. Muscles stretched and quivered as I wondered how I'd ended up in such poor shape after just a couple of months of not practicing. At moments of focus, she reminded us to think of the intention we'd set at the beginning. I found even that eluded me. Had I promised myself it was "doing it for myself"? Maybe I'd decided on "moment of Zen" a la Jon Stewart. Perhaps my mood had been closer to "don't let the b******* grind you down".
As I felt a struggle even to remember my intention, I felt even more out of place. Repeatedly, I began to focus on the idea that maybe yoga was no longer right for me. After all, my favorite part of the class had always been the semi-corpse pose right at the end, a chance to cram in something akin to a mini nap. Was being able to take a nap really a good enough reason to get back into it?
For the rest of the afternoon, I mentally berated myself. One of my friends assured me that any time she'd looked over, my form was strong and correct and my perception of the moment was not the reality. I couldn't shake my frustration, though. To add to the list of everything that I seem to be unable to overcome, I could now add yoga. I vowed that I wouldn't try again. It would be a great courtesy to the teacher, the other students, and myself.
I'm happy to say that my resolve on the matter has weakened. I have finally remembered my intention (or at least the intent of it). "Progress, not perfection." At the beginning of the class I remembered that I might be more like a newbie than an experienced student. I had granted myself the patience to make mistakes and face the difficulties with grace and kindness.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been in this sort of situation. For whatever reason, things that have come easy to you are suddenly hard. Things that you thought you could do end in disappointment and frustration. The urge is to question our abilities and throw in the towel. Please don't. Each time you step on the mat or pick up the hand weights or go for a run, remember that you are aiming for progress, not perfection. And sometimes progress is just doing it at all. Not necessarily the bendiest version or the fastest version or whatever metric you use.
Sometimes it is just the act of doing.
Progress, not perfection.