Several years ago, while talking to my friend Kathleen, a yoga instructor and health coach, I mentioned that I would like to make it through one of the more difficult yoga classes “without dying” and shared that I had been sticking to the “gentler” yoga classes out of fear that the harder ones would prove to be too challenging for me to make it all the way through without stopping.
“Well, that’s okay,” Kathleen said. “If you get too tired, you can always go to the mat.”
Friends, that simple phrase completely changed the way I viewed not only the practice of yoga, but also fitness efforts, creativity, new projects, and basically any new challenge I may face.
You can always go to the mat. Of course!
I’m not particularly competitive, and I have a rebellious streak; so I find chirpy fitness instructors exhorting the class to “raise those legs higher, ladies!” the opposite of motivating. But the gentle reminder that the mat is there for me and that it’s OK to use it inspires me to push myself so much harder than anyone else ever could. Because if I know I have a soft spot where I could theoretically rest – and here’s the best part, I’m not just allowed to, but actually encouraged to – well, why not try my very best and see what happens?
This is a great metaphor for the rest of life, isn’t it? If you know you can always rest, or take a step back, or crouch down in the middle of whatever hard thing you’re doing and put your forehead on the floor — without feeling like a failure — it makes that hard drive toward a big goal feel so much more doable. It takes away some of the fear and the doubt.
After talking to Kathleen, I realized that all along, I’d had bigger fitness goals than I had let myself embrace. For years I’d been doggedly focused on the day-to-day: just make it to the gym today. Twice this week. Rinse, repeat; without thinking much about the larger picture, or how I might want to look or feel in six months or a year.
Usually, I am the queen of the big picture. But not in this particular area of my life, apparently. See, I’ve never seen myself as particularly athletic, and the way I’ve gone about planning my fitness routine reflected that. I didn’t take hard classes, because I wasn’t sure I could get through them.) I didn’t sign up for races or challenges, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
But as a mom of many and a business owner I’ve made it through so many hectic periods of my life by resting hard when I need to. In life and in my work I ‘hit the mat’ regularly when my energy levels are low or I hit a stumbling block.
And I’ve seen how sometimes a little bit of rest gives me so much more energy to power through the rest of a project – and motivation to keep going.
So why wouldn’t I give myself the same freedom and permission to rest — and to still see my efforts as valuable and successful — when it comes to more physical pursuits?
Since that conversation years ago, I’ve thought back to that conversation often when I find myself avoiding challenge.
Because, whatever that challenge — whether it’s a hard fitness class or a big writing goal or a challenging phase in our teenager’s life — the mat is always available to us. Sometimes we have to create “the mat” for ourselves, and often we have to give ourselves permission to claim it — which means we have to ignore the chirpy voices around us telling us to just power through.
Resting is not giving up. It’s what allows me to reach further and aim higher and stay optimistic. Respite is always available to me.
I can always go to the mat. And it’s amazing how much just knowing that gives me the energy to keep on going.