Thursday, August 18, 2011

Facing Challenges and the Success of Failure

In my Sunday morning yoga class, Padma asked... "Why do we do things that are challenging?"  

I often find that there is a lot of overlap between what I do in the studio and outside of it.  The question has been percolating in my brain for a couple of days now and various answers--and more questions--have popped up throughout the week so far.  

Band camp started this week.  Our students will rehearse for 8 hours a day for two weeks, during which time the students will learn our marching style, drill formations, and the music for this year's marching band show.  And while all of that is important and results in an entertaining halftime show, the bigger thing that they learn is mental toughness--because, let's face it, August in the D.C. area is hot.  and humid.  and there are a zillion other things these students could be doing other than standing outside in the sun marching in an 8-to-5 roll step from endzone to endzone.  Marching band is hard, both physically and mentally.  Plus, all of your Friday evenings and many Saturdays are filled with football games and competitions where you have to wear goofy uniforms and can't go sit with your friends or go to the concession stand any time you want.  So why do it?  

And if marching band is so hard for the rest of us, why on earth would anyone want to start a marching band of blind students?  (Side note: I should add that there is a set of blind triplets at my school.  I teach two of them in the band and the third is in orchestra.  Watching this kid's story got me to wondering if they could be a part of the marching band too, which is when I found the clip from the Ohio School for the Blind--which made me cry.  I have a lot of hope for my students.)

Also during Sunday's class, we practiced yogini dandasana.  When executed correctly, it looks like this:

Photo courtesy of Peg Mulqueen at
Mine looked kind of like that, except you'll have to imagine my face falling towards (and colliding with) the floor as soon as I lifted my free leg.  Several times.  Every time I've attempted it, ever.  I don't need to do yogini dandasana to have a strong yoga practice.  There are lots of other poses I'm good at that accomplish the same thing.  So why fall on my face over and over and over again?  

Finally, this week I finally sat down and had a meeting which I had been dreading for about two months.  I knew what it would be about, and most of the things that were said were things I'd already been thinking about.  But even when you think you're prepared to face constructive criticism, getting your ass handed to you on a platter hurts.  The challenge I faced was not physical this time.  While I am generally in a constant state of self-reflection, setting aside your ego to have someone else point out your shortcomings is a lot more challenging than performing any yoga pose.  Or at least it was for me.  

So why DO I work through challenges--even "unnecessary" ones?  

Challenges make me grow--physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I'm a lifelong learner with a wide variety of interests; Doing what I already know how to do can get pretty boring.  Trying something new can be interesting--but at the same time I can't be good at everything I try either.  I learn through failure.  In fact, here's a great blog post all about the benefits of failure.  Maybe I fell on my face a lot in that yogini dandasana, but I also figured out that I needed to engage my core and squeeze my legs together more the next time I do it.  I learned a long time ago that failure is not the end of the world--you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.  Maybe I had a lot of professional challenges last year--but I learned from them and will be a better teacher as a result.  

Facing challenges in my life has help me develop persistence.  I talk to the students a lot about how Marching Band is every bit as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging.  In both yoga and marching band, there are times when our bodies are fatigued and that voice in the back of our head starts saying, "Hey, this is hard.  I can't do this.  Can I stop now?"  By facing challenges, I have learned to tell that inner voice to calm down--my arms won't fall off whether I'm holding a Virabhadrasana II for 5 minutes straight or pointing my horn to the pressbox.  

Ultimately, overcoming challenges gives me--and anyone really--a sense of personal accomplishment and pride that can only be cultivated from within.  It makes us open to continue our personal growth by setting aside our fear of failure and our fear of the unknown and frees our mind, body, and heart to achieve heights we had never previously considered possible.

I hope you are fortunate enough to face a challenge today--whether you succeed or fail, you will be a better person for it.

(And to think, I started going to yoga for the asana practice... ha!)  

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