Last month I witnessed a group of people practicing Yoga every day for thirty days. This means these people spent over 45 hours in the 105-degree studio. They committed to doing this challenge for a range of personal reasons. Private reasons. They were not graded nor judged nor paid. The rewards came from within. These 30-Dayers reported feeling happier, more energetic, calmer. They told me they slept better, ate better, smiled more. I received so much joy from teaching the 30-Dayers. They were (and are) strong, radiating energy and strength from within. Amazingly, though very few factors in their lives changed during their challenge (stress at work, relationship challenges, financial woes), they were happier, inside out, bones to the skin.
I've always been an over-achiever. If a teacher told me to do it, I’d do it. No shortcuts. The more tedious the assignment, the better. If I struggled more, I felt more accomplished because there was always the reward at the end of the task in the form of a grade or a compliment. I was forever competing with my twin sister or my classmates. When my partying high school girlfriends opted for a free period junior and senior years, I balked, signing up instead for the non-required Physics and Chemistry. When my swim coach gave us a ball-busting workout, I joined in the moaning and groaning of my teammates, but inside I was thrilled. I could work harder, show my coach that I was stronger. Then he’d pat me on the back and say, “Good work today Culberg.”
But what reward was I getting internally? Was I feeding my own sense of accomplishment or was I just ticking off achievements to tally at the end of each day? It was not until I was years into my Yoga practice that I started to move away from being mostly externally motivated in my actions. Yoga is personal. It is a process of seeking the divinity within. In my Yoga practice, I began to recognize the satisfaction of approving myself. It was enough to be proud of myself in standing head to knee pose. I stopped worrying (and even noticing) if I needed to take more breaks than the 75 year old woman practicing next to me. I practiced because I wanted to, because it was a gift I could give to myself.
Understanding the power of self-satisfaction has affected almost every part of my life. Of course I still struggle. I find myself in petty emotional predicaments with friends and family. The trouble is almost always rooted in some kind of disconnect I am having internally. I’m trying to be the most popular friend or the number one daughter. The difference is that now I can see when I am playing that old game. I can step back and say to myself, “What do you want? What do you need? And how are you going to get it?” And, like the 30-Dayers, in my process of finding what I need inside, I am exponentially happier, calmer, and more satisfied with the world outside.