Is Showing Up For Yoga Class Hard For You?

Via Amy Nobles Dolan
on Oct 28, 2011
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When You Know Something Is Going To Be Hard, Showing Up Can Be The Hardest Part.

When I learned about ancient mythology in school, I didn’t closely identify with a lot of the folks that filled the stories. I certainly didn’t have fellows dropping at my feet like Aphrodite. The vast power of Zeus, combined with his lustiness and (at times) questionable decision-making was kind of confusing. The wisdom of Athena left me feeling small. Pandora’s inability to control herself and keep that stupid box shut served only to irritate me.

But even as a kid, I had a deep pity for Sisyphus. Do you know his story? He was a wily, successful king who did a lot of bad stuff on his way to the top. He killed, he robbed, he told other people’s secrets. He even managed to tick off the “big guy,” Zeus. Once he finally landed in the Underworld, the gods thought long and hard about how to punish him for his deceitful life and they came up with a doozy. Sisyphus was doomed to an eternity of pushing a huge stone up a steep hill. Each time he neared the top of the hill, the boulder would roll back down, forcing him to begin again.

All that hard work with no chance of completion or any recognition for your effort would really stink, right?

Ask any mom the definition of a “Sisyphean task” and I suspect she won’t pause before giving you a one word response. “Laundry.” It’s not much more fun than pushing a gigantic rock uphill. Even more importantly, it’s never done. No sooner do you finish folding the last sock from your last load of the day, than someone in your house will change clothes. Without even a satisfying moment to say “I’m done,” you’re back to it again.

There is another fellow from mythology whose name is attached to some of the tasks that fill our days – Hercules. He was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Zeus’ wife, Hera, in a fit of jealousy, drove Hercules into a mad frenzy and he killed his wife and children. To atone for these murders, he was given 12 tasks to complete. Let’s just say that they were all really, really hard to do, but with his super-human strength, Hercules was able to pull them off. Not only did he get the satisfaction of completing his tasks, but he became famous for making the world a safer place for humankind.

While it’s rare that we have to kill monsters, we still face “Herculean tasks.” These are the things that require tremendous effort of us – raking the yard, changing over your kids’ closets for a new season, painting the bedroom. I’ve even heard that showing up for a weekly yoga class can feel Herculean! These are the things we know are going to big before we even begin. Because of this, getting ourselves to start is often the most “Herculean” part of the job. Once we get going, the work carries us along. Once we finish, we’re left pleased with our results and proud of our hard work.

Showing up and doing the work is what it’s all about. “Herculean tasks” are great life lessons for us. While true of all of the above examples, let’s talk about how the work involved in showing up to a yoga class can feel Herculean. We know it’s good for us. We know we’ll feel good after class. But we know it’s going to be hard. Really, really hard. Additionally, we know we will spend those 60 or 90 minutes not doing a hundred other things. How do we get ourselves there? There are lots of tricks for lots of people. What works for me is to schedule yoga like I would schedule an important meeting. By doing this, yoga becomes as non-negotiable a part of my day as an appointment when someone else is counting on me to show up. Once I’ve showed up, the hardest part is over. The work of yoga carries me along. Once I finish, I feel great – re-centered, re-charged, and re-invigorated.

And that’s the curious thing about Herculean tasks. While they require a lot of us, they leave us fulfilled. We may realize one day that we actually seek out Herculean tasks. We may realize that some of the most rewarding moments of our lives are when we’ve completed these tasks. The same cannot be said of Sisyphean tasks. These can really drain us. They feel (and, often, they are) endless. Even when they do end, they’re not so rewarding. Afterwards, we feel emptied, a little hollow, not at all fulfilled.

Because we have a little more control over the tasks that fill our days than Sisyphus and Hercules did in their stories, it is important that we develop the ability to tell a Sisyphean from a Herculean task. While it will not be possible to avoid all of our Sisyphean tasks, we can skip some (organizing the junk drawer) and hire out some (washing the dog). Simply knowing that we’re only left with a few (pesky laundry!), will make them feel less draining and more manageable.

Just think! Once we have this figured out, we’ll have lots of extra energy to pour into our next Herculean project.

Bring it on!
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About Amy Nobles Dolan

Amy lives with her husband and three children in suburban Philadelphia. She discovered yoga when her third child was still a baby as she searched for a way to reclaim her body as her own. Very quickly, yoga went from a weekly two hours of "me-time" to a life-changing passion. It is Amy’s great joy to be able to share the very real, every-day gifts of yoga with others—through both her yoga classes and her essays about the practice. Become a fan of "Yoga Thoughts" on Facebook. You can read more Yoga Thoughts essays on her website.


9 Responses to “Is Showing Up For Yoga Class Hard For You?”

  1. Old 454 says:

    I agree, showing up is the hardest part & my biggest block to showing up is thinking of all the other pressing things I need to do. Making appointments with myself is always tricky because I KNOW that time is flexible, whereas a commitment to someone else is fixed. That makes showing up for a class more of a firm appointment, than, say, going to the gym.

    I do like your contrast of Herculean vs Sysiphean taks–very nice.

  2. yogi tobye says:

    Sisyphean tasks are only hard because we seek the fruits of our labour. To just do the work for the work itself is the key. Sisyphus was certainly getting a good work out every day! Maybe that's the moral of the story?

    Herculean tasks are difficult because our ego pulls us back from evolving and growing as people. The hardest part is overcoming the resistance for sure. Once we start, they're no longer Herculean tasks at all. We have all the power we need to accomplish them.

    And as for yoga being a Herculean task… As my teacher always says; "Stand at the front of your mat and feel the resitance."

  3. Joe Sparks says:

    If you can figure out how to come to a yoga class, you are having a good life, no matter what!

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you Amy! The biggest part of life is just showing up! Sweet!

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  5. Shawn says:

    I spend a lot of time encouraging my yoga students to develop a home yoga practice. In my eyes, this is the eventual goal of all yoga — to move beyond the group aerobic class and connect to your own mind and body.

    If you think showing up at a yoga class once a week is difficult, try doing your own practice at home every day when everything in your apartment or house screams, "Stop doing yoga! Pay attention to me!"

    Distractions at home include:
    – Children and partners, who sometimes actually do say, "Pay attention to me!"
    – It's free. If you skip your home class, there is no financial loss.
    – There's no teacher (or peer pressure) to prod you along.
    – The TV/laptop/bed/cat are more interesting than lifting your arms up overhead.

    A solid home practice, though, doesn't start with 90 minutes every day, seven days a week. Doing that during your first month is a great way to stop doing yoga. As with amusement parks and Chinese buffets, it's best to start slowly and work into it.

    In the beginning, I ask my students to set aside five minutes a day for their home yoga practice. Yes, just five minutes a day ("less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee!"). This usually consists of simple movements of the arms, tied to the breath.

    These basic movements set the foundation for their entire practice. What's even more important than kicking five sets of handstands every day is showing up in your yoga space and calming your mind.

    When one of my yoga teachers was starting his yoga practice in India, his teacher gave him a blanket. "Whenever you do your practice," his teacher said, "do it on this blanket." So he did. Again, and again, and again. Over time, simply stepping onto the towel brought him into the proper frame of mind for his yoga practice.

    A yoga practice is not always a Herculean task. Think of it more like water eroding a mountain, extremely slow (but consistent). Every time you step onto your mat (or towel/floor, if that's your thing), you are building a samskara — habit — that will help you continue with your practice.

    If doing a basic practice in the beginning bores you, or you find your mind drifting during those fifteen minutes, then you've struck gold! Yoga isn't about distracting your mind with fancy poses and techno-dance-trance-yoga music. It's about coming to that space where there's nothing to entertain you, and being okay with that emptiness.

    So commit to five minutes a day. Set aside time during your schedule for those five minutes, and stick with it. When five minutes seems easy, you can increase it to 10 or 15. Soon you will wonder why you ever stressed about making it to the yoga studio.

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