By Louise Kennedy
I learned a new word this week: chaturanga. It’s Sanskrit for “Your arms are about to fall off.”
No, really, it’s just a perfectly simple low pushup position. You remember how much I love pushups, right? Well, it turns out I love them even more when I’m doing them in an 85-degree “power yoga” room, surrounded by sweaty strangers who are still, somehow, not quite as sweaty as I am, and knowing that I still have an hour to go.
For all of this, I blame the Naughty Moms.
It’s so unlike them, really. The Naughty Moms – there are five of us – typically get together to drink too much wine. (I named the group a few years ago, when it struck me that we felt the strongest urge to convene on the nights when PTO meetings were scheduled.) But it turns out that some of the Naughty Moms are actually quite fit, and when they learned of this project, they were eager to gang up on me. I mean, offer support.
So here I am on a rented mat, next to Sara, Queen of the Naughties, and occasionally glancing ahead in awe at Naughty Pretzel Princess Susan, who has been doing yoga for seven years and looks, frankly, incredible. Sara has been a jock all her life, so even though she’s new to yoga, her chaturanga is pretty strong, to say nothing of her downward dog. Me? I’m barely a downward puppy.
But gradually, surprisingly, I start absorbing the advice that the amazing teacher, Renee LeBlanc, is sandwiching between torture commands. If you need to take a break, take it. Do what you can do. Try not to judge. And, my favorite, “This is practice. The big game is tonight.” Nothing like a sense of humor to get me on board.
What really hooks me, though, is the way I feel after class. Once I’ve showered away the truly prodigious quantities of sweat, I feel … pure. Clean. Like all my crankiness and excuses have been sweated out of me, and like I’ve worked really hard and, as a result, feel at once stronger and more relaxed than I have in years.
Maybe best of all, I know I am a beginner, and I accept it, almost without judgment. Yeah, I couldn’t do some of the poses at all. But I did some others, and I worked hard, and I deserve to feel good. For a self-critical perfectionist, this is a remarkable shift.
It’s also a remarkable contrast with what happened in the swimming pool.
(Yeah, I told you I went swimming, but I didn’t really come clean with how that went.) My gym has two pools with marked lanes, and I’d heard that the back pool was the recreational one, so I headed there in order to stay out of the way of the “real” swimmers.
Once there, I asked the official-looking guy standing at the edge to direct me to the “extra slow” lane. He pointed, and I got in and started to swim – and, even going slow, was huffing and thrashing and cursing myself for being so out of shape. Not much fun.
After four lengths of this, I paused at the wall to let the faster woman in my lane go ahead. Very sweetly, she asked, “Would you like a copy of the program?”
“The program?” I said.
“You’re on the masters’ swim team, yes?” she replied. I said no, and we both laughed – I in embarrassment, and she, no doubt, in relief at having the mystery of an incompetent “teammate” explained.
I told this story to Coach Allison while we were talking about setting a more structured timeline and goals for the year – and, as I did, I was struck by my literal enactment of a metaphor. As I often do, I had jumped in with both feet, and so I’d gotten in a little over my head. I survived, sure, but I’d made it harder on myself than it had to be.
Allison gently suggested that I might be doing the same thing with Project Louise. In my eagerness to get going in time for January 1, she pointed out, I had launched myself with some goals that might not be exactly what I was really aiming for.
Specifically, I said I wanted to weigh 145 pounds at the end of the year. “Is that really your goal?” she asked. “If you weigh more than that, but you’ve established sustainable habits that have you pointed in the right direction, and you feel healthier, and you’ve created a life that is serene and happy, will you feel as if you’ve failed?”
No, I realized, I won’t. I’d like to lose some weight, and 145 seems like a weight at which I would look and feel much better. But my actual goal, as Allison said, is to create sustainable habits and improve my life.
So maybe I’ll weigh 145, and maybe I won’t. I'll be tweaking my specific goals in the weeks to come. But at least I'm clear on the general direction I'm pointed in — and I also have a better sense of how to get there.
Readers, have you been surprised to find an exercise you like? And how clear are you about your goals? Would you like to know more about SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goals?