Last Saturday I embarked on a journey. I signed up for a 60-day challenge at Bikram Yoga Pasadena. Just as its name suggests, the challenge requires me to complete 60 Bikram classes in 60 days. I dived in with the naive enthusiasm that usually accompanies a new endeavor. One week later, my original gusto has faded in a haze of aches, fatigue, and wails of ‘Why the heck am I doing this?’
I mean, I know why I do Bikram. Not only is it physically exhilarating—simply staying in a 115 degree room for 90 minutes feels like a feat—it demands a mental rigor unlike other styles of yoga. Every session consists of the same 26 postures practiced in the same sequence. There are rules about when and how you can break for water. The teacher calls you out if you fidget, talk, or skirt your potential. By contrast, in my life as a freelancer I have to impose my own structure. Be both the nagging boss and the recalcitrant employee. Work harder even when I’ve reached my limit. What a relief, then, to walk into that classroom and have someone else push me to my edge.
But 60 days straight? I’m the first to caution moderation in all things. I don’t doubt that I could reap the benefits of Bikram by incorporating 3 or 4 classes a week into my existing fitness routine. Yet in this instance I feel an instinctive drive to drop my inhibitions at the studio door. And on the first day of the challenge, as we struggled through a spine-contorting, panic-inducing backbend, instructor Eva voiced that instinct: “Let go of what does not serve you.”
What does not serve me? I've spent years identifying exactly that. I know it's the envy (and subsequent guilt) that accompanies each birth announcement in my Facebook feed. I know it’s the regrets and missed opportunities as colleagues blaze past me on the career track. I know it's the snap judgements and eternal procrastinations. What I don't know is how to let it all go. I wrap my grievous tendencies around me like a old wool blanket: I can't part with the familiarity even though it itches like hell.
As I drove home that first day, soaking the driver's seat with sweat and letting Eva's words marble around my mind, a thought struck me. What if the first step on the path to letting go doesn’t involve letting go at all? What if I can start the process by nudging my harmful habits aside, instead of relinquishing them altogether? As humans we’re terrified of emptiness. We run from a void. We struggle to let go—no matter how much what we cling to brings us down—because we fear the chasm that doing so would open. But if we saturate our lives with the thoughts and actions that lift us up, we can excavate the negative knowing that a reservoir of positivity waits to take its place.
So I’m testing my theory for the next 53 days. With this yoga challenge I'm not consciously casting aside my usual self-recriminations. Rather, I'm filling up on discipline and determination, focus and resolve. Every posture is a personal victory, each class a drop in the well of accomplishment. I’m letting go of what does not serve me by embracing what does.
P.S. Apologies for the light posting these past few days. I've been buried under some exciting projects that I can't wait to share! This week I was also me at Lamps Plus (talking modern nursery decor) and Clementine Daily (sharing ways to put a spring in your step). Images: Emily Johnston on Instagram