Evolution Versus Goals


“Life is a Journey. Not a Destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Any of us who grew up with report cards, vied for sporting trophies or hitched our financial star to a supervisor’s review of our work know goal-setting very well. It’s meant to keep our eyes on the prize. To take us where we want to be. To give us a taste of sweet success. To improve us.

Sometimes, it works. Honor roll. Gold medal. Pay hike and a bonus.  Sometimes, not. We cannot control all the variables along the way, no matter how hard we work and focus. Lose 10 pounds before the wedding! Failing to do so just feels like, well, failing. Eight pounds can’t be good enough because eight pounds was not the goal! It’s as if nothing we did or experienced along the way actually counted because we did not get there. Cue heaviness in pit of stomach, maybe tears, maybe anger. Blame game may ensue. Should have done this or that or the other. Maybe blame shift. Somebody else or a situation got in the way. The finish line moved! No fair!

Wait, back to the first scenario. Winning. Achieving the goal. Sweet success! And then what? Next! Another goal. Another destination. Often without even savoring the win. Maintaining can be seen as complacency, even laziness. Re-directing can be seen as flaky. Back-tracking or reviewing? Loserville.

There is another way. American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson made an iconic statement: “Life is a journey. Not a destination.” In yogic terms, which have 5000-year-old roots, mindfulness of life’s journey yields awareness, presence and meaning.  Mindfulness invests every moment of the journey, the mundane and the sublime, with learning opportunities. Evolution of the self to its fullness. Its inherent divinity, in spiritual terms.

“Yeah, right!” you might say. “Tell that to my sales manager when I don’t make my goals for the quarter. I was fulfilling my inherent divinity!  Pink slip.”

Mindfulness does not preclude goals. It enhances the path. It allows you to learn every step of the way. In corporate terms, if we are always learning, we will not become obsolete. Which would really feel better in the long run? Celebrating the rare moments we cross the finish line? Or investing our focus, our work, our desire, our satisfaction in the almost endless stream of daily moments? Within those moments are the real keys to our evolution, our growth in competency.

I have some goals I am exploring now in my yoga practice. Most of my yoga hours are spent in teaching, usually in a gym environment, which means the flow of poses must be accessible to anyone who walks in, from newbie to regular practitioners. Dear Readers, I have grown complacent in this situation and while I have evolved in my competency as a teacher, I recognize a lack of growth in my own practice.

I have set a goal. For full-on yogi speak, I might say, “I have set my intention.” The nuance is that I intend to move toward something and to do the work but I am open to whatever happens along the way and whatever learning it might lead to for me.

My intention is to explore the arm-balance poses. The strength required of the shoulders and of the serratus anterior muscles that wrap the ribs have been a challenge for me, given my frame. As a person with very open or free-moving joints and loose ligaments. I can explore the postures that exhibit flexibility quite naturally and freely. The deeper learning for me lies in recruiting the muscles to work harder. Many other people come to yoga for the opposite intention — releasing tightness in their muscles and exploring joint range.

Learning to do Scorpion Pose or perhaps Inverted Splits with Arm Balance will require an evolution in my physical competency. Maybe because I’ve been an avid reader and a writer most of my life, I also see the glimmer of a simile in this new intention. Balancing flexibility with strength is like balancing soft with hard. Yin with yang.

Above is a photo of me beginning to explore arm balance. Yes, I did some of this in my teacher training but it was appetizer-sized learning. I am ready, I believe, to make a meal of it. Who knows exactly what will happen along the way? I will try to be patient and kind with myself, while surrendering to the sheer amount of work that must be done. It is fair to say I have always been competitive. Through following this arm-balance intention, perhaps I will be able to release that sheer goal-oriented focus. And, maybe that will be the point! We shall see.

Badass Yogi


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Contorting into the most extreme positions requiring the core strength of a Hercules and the suppleness of a snake. Flowing the fastest. Sweating the most. Leaving newbs in the dust. Aching for days after class. Sound like yoga to you? In expanding to the gym environment, yoga has become, sometimes, just another notch in one’s Belt of Fitness Badassery. Darlings, allow me to say, this is a very bad idea.

There is strength in simplicity. Standing in Mountain, the simplest active pose, can strengthen the legs and the core through internal actions scarcely visible to the eye. Pressing into the feet, “lifting” the kneecaps, spiraling the thighs, expanding the distance between ribs and hips. Add awareness of the breath, soft gaze, fingertips reaching downward. Anyone can stand there, right? Well, mindfully? Relaxed but attentive? Athletes and dancers do it all the time. In the general population, it used to be called Good Posture. For most people, that went the way of cursive handwriting with the advent of all our digital helpers. The same helpers have many of hunched forward with an overstretched upper back, tight chest, rolled-in shoulders and collapsed belly. In psychological terms, it is recognized across cultures as the posture of defeat. It used to be a posture seen mostly in the elderly, the infirm and unwell. We see it now in the young. The collapsed posture charges a high price in neck pain, low back issues, even depressed mood. Mountain reminds us to lift skyward. When we are fully present in Mountain pose, how much more ease we have in moving into a pose that asks for more of us, as does Tree, when one foot is lifted and we must explore our balance.

There is suppleness within many ranges of motion. A student may observe the position at which I can turn out my hip but have no idea of how it feels to me or how their internal experience of the pose differs from mine. We cannot see each others’ hip joints! There is a variety of joint shapes that determine a lot about one’s range of motion. Many people, especially those with sedentary jobs or even fitness activities that are repetitive, may not use their individual range of motion to its fullest. This is something to explore, gently and with compassion for one’s body, through yoga. Pushing past one’s limits can do internal damage over time. It is not Badass to force a limb where we believe it should go in order to be correct or to succeed or even to win against other students. It is foolhardy. The no-pain-no gain ethos of some sports cannot apply here.

Can yoga enhance or increase one’s overall fitness? Considering that it began in India over 5000 years ago as a way of training up young men to be warriors,  it certainly can.  And, there are many different schools of yogic teaching that offer a variety of paths. Some purposefully more regimented or sweaty than others! Students may explore to find the format that resonates most, that opens doors to strength, balance, flexibility and relaxation. Raised on a Western diet of grades and medals and trophies, my own ego certainly enjoys a little massage when I do a pose that previously seemed impossible. In studying the philosophy of yoga, especially the yamas and niyamas, I am learning to view those moments not as triumphs of will but as evolution arising from stilling of my ego and increasing mindfulness. Every day on the mat is different. When I need to feel like a badass, I can throw some iron around in the gym. Mindfully, of course!