I had an interesting revelation last week in the middle of a yoga class.
If you’re not familiar, at the beginning of most yoga classes the instructor will often encourage everyone to set an intention for the class. To be honest, I never really understand what this means, but I’m a team player so I go with it. The method to my madness is quite simple —embrace the first word that comes to mind when instructed to set an intention.
More often than not, the word that presents itself first is “peace,” because regardless of how frequently or infrequently I’m able to achieve inner peace, it’s my ultimate goal in life — and therefore always top of mind.
Last week, however, the word that first popped into my (sometimes manic) mind was “strength.” OK. Let’s go with it.
Weakened by a busy few days of errands, meetings, back-to-school nights and other motherhood mayhem, I suppose I was ready to feel strong again — by holding some of my yoga poses longer, trying more adventurous moves or making it through all the ab-strengthening exercises without giving up (for once).
My mantra of strength worked well for the first half of the class. It inspired me to be and do more and allowed me to appreciate my physical strength.
But then something changed.
The more I pushed myself, the more tired I became. Funny how that works (note to self). My legs, arms and already weak abs suddenly felt just as tired as my manic mind. This hardly seemed like the end goal I was working toward.
In my effort to feel stronger, I was making myself weaker.
So, halfway through the class, I changed my definition of strength and dropped to my knees in the resting position known as “child’s pose.” Every good yoga instructor invites students to embrace this restorative position when their body needs it, but nobody really does it in the middle of class because their ego gets in the way.
In other words, even when their body is begging for it, their mind won’t allow them to go there — to take a knee — when everyone else is standing on one leg in a bizarre balancing position, or even on their head.
So, what allowed me to do it? What gave me the permission to crumble into a pile of flesh and bone while everyone else around me kept flowing?
It was quite simple. In that moment, I shifted my definition of strength away from hurting myself and toward healing myself. Of course, pushing through 25 plank positions requires physical strength, that much is clear. But, dropping to your knees when everyone around you keeps cruising requires mental strength. A lot of it.
As I climbed into my fetal position smelling the sweet, not-so-sweet smells of my yoga mat, I thought to myself: Now, this requires strength. Everyone’s looking, perhaps they’re thinking I’m weak. But I don’t give a flip because right now I feel stronger than I’ve felt in a very long time.
I didn’t feel strong because I was doing more, but because I was doing less.
And that’s what our happiness, freedom and inner peace ultimately come down to — setting our own damn definitions of success. A lot of people say that strength comes from physical conquests, that more money and power will bring you happiness, and that it’s necessary to move away from your family in order to have a successful career.
I call bullshit on all of it. I don’t live by other people’s definitions of success; I live by my own. And even in the midst of my often-manic mind, this way of life brings me a considerable amount of inner peace, mental freedom and dozens of deep breaths each and every day.
And I love watching other women do the same.
A few weeks ago, I got to sit on the sidelines and watch one of my dear friends turn down an impressive job offer to join a cutting-edge company and make more money than she’s ever made before.
So, why did this hardworking mother walk away from more money and more opportunity when everyone said she’d be crazy to do so? Because my friend knows herself, and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself.
While her job offer would have blindly impressed most people, it didn’t woo her because she actually knows what makes her happy — and it’s not dollar bills or dynamic growth strategies. It’s the freedom to say no, the joy of traveling with her family, and the flexibility that comes with contract rather than full-time positions.
As women, we need to see our friends, peers and fellow mamas living and dying by their own definitions of success in life. My friend’s courage to live life on her own terms boosted my own strength and undoubtedly allowed me to drop to my knees in a yoga class just when I needed to do so most.
A ripple effect of strength, if you will.
This is your life. It’s time to grow up and start making your own decisions. Don’t blindly follow other people’s definitions of strength, happiness and success.
This is your life. It’s time to come up with your own definitions.