Yoga Tip: What worthwhile goal is there in life that doesn’t hurt

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Happy Fall Equinox 2000 – After Wednesday night’s Kripalu yoga class I asked a 12 year-old girl named Kristine, “How was your first yoga class?” “It hurt,” she said without the slightest hesitation. One of the elder studio regulars chimed in, saying, “Well, at least she’s being honest.” Then this studio member turned to Kristine and added, “Honey, it hurts every time I come to class. But it hurts more if I just stay at home.”

There is something remarkable about the candor of youth. It hurt. A concise honest assessment of a new experience in life. I was surprised by Kristine’s comment because she was reasonably flexible, fit, & she seemed to glide through the class. With a few days to reflect on Kristine’s 2-word assessment of her first yoga experience, here is a simple question that comes to mind. What worthwhile goal is there in life that doesn’t hurt?

Yesterday I read in The Boston Globe about a teenage girl from Peabody who won a gold metal at the Sydney Olympics in the 800-meter freestyle relay. Does anyone think this young lady achieved this noble goal without experiencing any pain? As someone who started swimming competitively at the age of 6, I can assure you that every swimmer at Sydney has chosen to subject themselves to hours and hours of intense pain. Why? Perhaps in the beginning to win their parents approval and later on to win gold metals.

Pain is an inexorable part of the human experience. Everyone of us will experience pain today. Whether we are training to run in the next Boston Marathon, or whether we are working long hours to make our business succeed, or whether we are feeling pushed to the limits of our sanity struggling to be good moms and dads … if you reside in a human body and you are striving to achieve noble goals, guess what? A large piece in the formula to success is learning how to deal with pain. It is no different in yoga.

The really important questions are: What noble goals am I trying to achieve in my life? And which tools are going to help get me there? When I was approximately the same age as Kristine, I decided that one noble goal was peace of mind. In a world where most everyone seemed driven to achieve exterior material goals, my choice for a noble goal seemed to cut against the grain. How would I know when I achieved this nebulous state? And would anyone besides me care? Wasn’t this a selfish goal (especially for an adolescent)? Peace of mind?

Most worthwhile goals are not achieved in a single day. Perhaps not even in a single year. Nor even in a single lifetime. Life’s truly significant goals demand incredible commitment and faith. In moments of distraction, doubt, & pain, one must remember what the noble goal is and repeatedly recommit to it.

What I’ve discovered about yoga is that every day it gives me the technology to hook up my body, mind, & soul. In so doing, I come to experience depths of my being beyond personal worldly identities and layers of momentary gratification. For me, the bonuses are the obvious health benefits and the improved shape and tone of my physical body. But, first and foremost, I use yoga as a tool to achieve peace of mind.

The great thing about yoga is its versatility. Name a noble goal. And I will tell you how yoga will help you achieve it. Will it hurt? Of course, it will. To quote Bikram Choudhury, “What do you want? 90 minutes of pain? Or 90 years? You decide.”