Work harder, push more, stay determined and keep busy! Do that and you’re guaranteed to climb the corporate ladder, beat personal bests in the gym and be the envy of your peers, right?
But does that kind of approach really bring contentment to anyone's lives, or are we surrounded by exhausted, worn out people who aren't quite as happy as their flash car and social media feeds might suggest?
There's no doubt that goals, gains and grit are hugely important things on your journey through life, but for truly sustainable mental and physical success, I’d argue that finding balance is key and often overlooked.
Winning and succeeding
When I first started practicing yoga, I was a boxing, marathon runner who wanted to win, and heading into the hot yoga studio for the first few months I fully intended to win. But in class number one the rules weren’t that obvious to me… how could I win?
Is it who takes the least sips of water and keeps the most layers on despite the 40 degree heat? The person who gets their legs the highest or can handstand for longest? Maybe the person that produces the biggest pool of sweat around their mat.
After longer than ideal, I began to submit to the idea that there was no concept of ‘objective success’ in yoga. Refreshingly, for one of the first times in my life, there was nobody to compete with and nobody to impress. It was just me having a physical practice in my own body, where there would be stretching, there would be strengthening, but there would also be a whole load more.
The wandering mind
All of us are hyper-connected, over-stimulated and have acquired a deficiency in attention. In a world of busy-ness our minds have become accustomed to being anywhere except for the present moment; fantasising about the future and ruminating about the past. We seem to have lost the remote for the control that will allow us to press pause on the movie inside our head. But perhaps that’s where yoga kicks in.
In a yoga class, though there’s lots of physical benefits as a byproduct, you’re really using the body as a vehicle for self-inquiry. It’s a chance to arrive at and observe the simplicity of being in your breathing body in that very moment. When your mind inevitably wanders, you can observe that without judgment and practice coming back to ‘now’; I like to teach coming back to the start of the next inhale.
If you can do this on the mat, eventually you’re more equipped to do it off the mat too, despite any distractions.
The physical opposites
If we spend a lot of our life doing particular physical things with the body, in our efforts to find balance we probably should spend a little time doing the opposite. Office workers and Uber driver spend theirs days hunching over their desk/wheel in spinal flexion and almost never make effort to find any spinal extension. Some runners spend hours a week pounding the pavement and tightening their legs, and spend perhaps just 1% of that time making efforts to loosen their muscles. Some dancers will focus their lives on opening joints to a huge range of motion, without even considering stabilising their most flexible areas.
Yoga can offer this physical antidote to what you do most with your body; it not only actually helped my recovery from boxing sessions, but actually increased my performance. Physically, my view is that a yoga asana (pose) practice has never been about just flexibility; it’s about finding strength where you are very open, and openness where you are very tight.
Knowing yourself and killing the ego
Undoubtably, my emotions used to be more turbulent; I’d get drawn in to the highs of life and spend an unnecessary amount of time wallowing in the lows. Ego would thrive and there would be plenty of inner critic rearing its head. Through a yoga and meditation practice, thanks to a lack of focus on winning you can start to tap in to your internal narrative and start to check-up on and really observe the workings of your mind.
When does your ego start to take over and you begin to get frustrated by the pose you can’t do? When do you start to get envious or judgmental of the other people in the room? Hoe much do you hold on to emotions as they arise?
Yes, over more than a decade practicing yoga I’ve got more control of my body and can make some impressive looking shapes, but my biggest takeaway has been the real effects. I’m calmer, less reactive, feel more grounded, ride the waves of life easier and take far more time to appreciate what I have, rather that crave for what I want. Of course, I still swear, have insecurities and get angry when someone stands on the wrong wide of the escalator… But there is more balance.
Yoga has been my antidote to modern life and it can be yours too.
Ex-boxer and former ultramarathon runner, Adam Husler, has thousands of yoga teaching hours under his belt. Instructor at one of the world's top yoga studios, Triyoga, he also runs classes at renown gym, Equinox. On top of all that, Adam leads workshops, trainings and teaches festivals continuously around the world. Image credit: @yogaandphoto