March 4, 2011

Do You Have a Wishbone Where Your Backbone Should Be?

Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone should be. – Elizabeth Gilbert

Perhaps it is because I am currently cohabitating with adolescents that this line strikes such a resonant chord with me. Let’s just say that the amount of wishful thinking around my house outweighs hard work and practice a billion to one.

For instance, my daughter would really like to play with her friends on a more highly ranked soccer team. Yet she rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders every time we suggest she head out to the yard with a ball to practice her footwork, dribbling and shots. My son fancies himself one of the “smart kids” at school. Yet his interest in spending his afternoons studying and doing “a little extra something” to get better grades is nil. My youngest desperately wants to run a longer leg the next time our family splits a marathon with my brother’s family. Yet she has something better to do every single time her father invites her to join him for a training run. They truly seem to believe that wishing is enough to get them what they want.

It would not, however, be honest of me to allow you to believe that my children wear the only wishbones around our house. My husband has been wishing for “6-pack abs” for years. But, has he done even one night of core work? Turns out that wishing for those muscles is more fun than doing sit-ups. For my part, I have been wishing that I could kick up into a handstand for an embarrassingly long time. But have I gone out to my studio to do the work I know I need to do to learn a new yoga posture? Turns out wishing I could stand on my hands is a lot less scary than actually trying to do it.

I know good and well from practicing yoga that sitting around and wishing I could do something is not a good strategy for achieving anything. The kind of yoga that I practice (ashtanga) involves a powerful series of postures (asana). I have been doing yoga for 10 years and I am still learning about and opening into these same postures. There is only way they are going to continue to become more accessible to my body — the hard, sweaty work of practice.

I can remember many wishes along my yoga way. When I first started practicing, I really wanted to be able to touch my toes. I then set my sights on being able to lower into a plank (chaturanga). Next, I wanted to be able to lift up into a backbend (urdhva danurasana). And so it went. A free-standing headstand (sirsasana), crow (bakasana), getting my legs into position in tortoise (kurmasana), the list goes on and on. I’m happy to say, each of these “wishes” has been fulfilled. But not by a yoga fairy or by magically wiggling my nose like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie.

On my mat, I’ve learned to believe in the “magic” of diligent, dedicated, patient hard work. I’ve learned that nothing leads to progress more than practice. I’ve learned to have faith in my own potential, even when the changes I see are so infinitesimal that no one else would notice them. In other words, I’ve learned to put my backbone where my wishbone is. I’ve also learned that wishes lead to work when accompanied by a healthy dose of love. I love yoga. This love is enough to inspire my passion and commitment to my practice. This love holds me steady in those (often long) times of hard work in between wishes being fulfilled. While my achievements make me happy, this pleasure pales in comparison to the pleasure of doing the work.

In this way, I suppose I am lucky. I’m pretty sure my husband’s thrill at having a “ripped” tummy this summer will far outshine any pleasure he gets from doing sit-ups. That said, I can’t say I’m actually all that eager to face my fears of throwing my body weight upside down. But, like my husband, I know that if I want the thrill of (finally) doing a handstand, I’m going to have to do a whole lot more than wish. Wishing is just the first step.

I realize that developing a backbone (a.k.a. the ability and belief in hard work) is a big part of growing up. My wish for my kids is that they find something they love to do. For when they do, the desire to do the necessary hard work will come more naturally. While getting better will be one reward, the real gift will come from seeing the results of their hard work. While they may not always play soccer or be students or even be able to run two miles without collapsing in a heap, knowing the potential of working hard is a gift they will carry with them all their lives.

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