902 Days Of Yoga And Finding Freedom In Fallibility

image: dan james
image: dan james

Back in the late summer of 2010 I started learning yoga. A couple of months later, on October 1st, I decided to try to make yoga a daily practice for 1000 days.

Along the way at various landmarks, I’ve written a few posts about what it’s taught me about being more creative, more disciplined and being a better human being.

Wednesday was my 902nd consecutive day of yoga practice. The day I’m writing this, Friday, I awoke realising that my unbroken run was, well, broken.

Yesterday, Thursday, I was off work, had got up later, and despite having a pretty relaxing day, had simply forgotten to do my yoga practice.

My initial reaction was inevitably great disappointment.

I was within a hundred days of my 100 day target, and now it was gone.

Over the last 30 months, I’d managed to show up daily on the mat, including through 72 hours of the worst sickness I can remember in my adult life, holidays in yurts and shepherds huts where my mat was laid on outdoor decking, and even on the day my son was born at 5.19am.

So to break the sequence simply by forgetting to do it seemed a bitter blow.

But as I thought about it more, I actually felt relieved. I felt a little more human.

Yoga, and indeed any daily practice, is not meant to be done under great pressure. And whilst I didn’t literally mark off the days as I edged towards 1000, it was often in the back of my mind.

Now I can remind myself that I’m not a machine, I have my fallibilities.

Sometimes I gallop along on the horse, sometimes I canter, sometimes I fall off.

Plus, what’s far more important than missing one day is the fact that I did practice the previous 902 days.

When anything ends after a substantial time, we tend to be quick to focus on the demise itself, and write off all that we gained and enjoyed from what went before.

We hear people talk about relationships of five, 10, 20 or more years being a waste of those years.

But the truth is that for many of those years they were most likely in that relationship for many good reasons, and enjoyed a host of wonderful times and experiences. Just because the relationship ended, it doesn’t mean those times were any less valued and precious.

None of us would be the people we are today without the experiences that have shaped us.

My realisation at falling short of day 903 also made me think about a wider trap I often fall into.

In a word – numbers.

In a sentence – measuring the worth of life’s experiences only in numbers.

I’m prone to getting caught up with figures and goals at the expense of the quality and richness of the experiences. And the truth.

Ironically, on what would have been day 903 I had a very valuable conversation with an online friend of some years.

She was telling me about an internet community she was involved with where the membership barely edged into double figures. Yet it was, and still is, one of the most valuable communities she has ever found, online or off.

We talked about how a few years back our CCS community had over 1200 members.

Then how, one day after some close analysis of the membership and a lot of facing the brutal truth, I realised that the core, active membership was around 200.

In other words, around 1000 people, or over 80% of the membership had either not contributed to the community in a year or more, or hadn’t posted a single word or picture ever.

I trimmed the membership back to those core 200 or so members, and removed many of the redundant old groups, and instantly CCS felt a lighter, brighter, more intimate and more close-knit community than it had since the very early days when there were only a few dozen of us.

I actually recognised the face of virtually everyone I came across in the community again.

That sense of belonging that you only feel when you’re around other people that “get” your work, and the reasons why you create, returned.

CCS was back to being a friendly, supportive village again, rather than a somewhat intimidating and sprawling metropolis…

Again, what mattered here was not the numbers, not the quantities.

What mattered was focusing on the quality of experience of the members who were active and helping us make the community the wonderfully supportive and stimulating tribe it is.

How can you have any kind of closeness and sense of belonging and genuine ongoing relationships with a group of hundreds, let alone thousands?

(Anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests the maximum number with whom one can maintain stable social relationships is around 150…)

Back to the daily yoga.

I would not for a minute suggest that a daily practice wasn’t beneficial. Whether it’s yoga, daily gratitudes, writing a line of poetry, taking a photograph, doodling on a scrap of paper, singing in the shower or any other regular practice, the benefits are immense.

These kind of habits and stacks of habits have helped me reach a wonderful level of creativity and confidence, and I’ve seen the same happen for so many others too.

But it isn’t the end of the world if you miss a day now and then, as long as you’re still exploring, still expanding, still evolving.

Plus it might help you, like it helped me, realise a little bit of fallibility is a good thing.

Especially when it brings you back to the truth, back to what matters.

That in itself is very freeing. You’re released from chasing and counting all the other things that aren’t really that important.

I always wondered what I would do when I reached my 1000th day of yoga.

Now, in some ways, I don’t have to wonder, because it’s not going to happen.

And in some ways I know exactly what I would have done. Unroll the mat again tomorrow morning and be as present and devoted in my practice as I can be…

Only now, maybe with a little more humanity and focus on the meaning and experience of the practice, rather than simply counting up those numbers…

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