Intentions. The road to hell is paved with good ones, we’re told. One Saturday in yoga class a few months ago, I learned just how true this is. To start, it was noon on a Saturday and I was at yoga class, instead of brunch/the mall/the farmer’s market/on the couch, so I was feeling particularly proud of myself. As I sat on my mat, I noticed that the room felt a bit warmer than usual. I do vinyasa yoga, so the temperature is always a bit elevated, but it was the first time I had been back in a few weeks due to travel, so I told myself I was simply not yet adjusted to the temperature yet. Mistake number 1 right there – not trusting what I was feeling.
The instructor entered and we began and then came the time for each of us to set our intention for the class. Since I’d been on a trip where I’d been eating some really great food and was feeling like my body was reflecting that, I intended to give myself some tough love and silently resolved “Do not quit.”
Now, that was mistake number 2. What kind of intention is that? What does “quitting” mean when it comes to yoga? I had completely set myself up to feel badly and like I had failed. I have not been taking yoga for very long, so the chances of the instructor doing a pose that I wasn’t going to be able to get into was very good. Yet here I was, psyching myself up like I was going to embark on Navy SEAL training instead of taking a weekend yoga class.
Well, circumstances that day decided to teach me a fun lesson. As we began our flows, the inkling I’d had that the room was very warm was now a full on undeniable fact – it was was far hotter than I’d experienced in the class before. But I reminded myself of my intention – don’t you quit. Halfway through the class, this was no longer my intention, it was my constant mantra as I could barely get my breath. I was no longer in a yoga studio – I felt like I was in Southeast Asia on the hottest day of the year. I transitioned from feeling insanely hot to cold. I decided that probably wasn’t good. I wondered to myself if passing out would be seen as hard-core or pathetic. I’m pretty sure I saw Jesus a few times, and I definitely asked Him for help. I looked around wondering if anyone else was hallucinating their respective deities and if they looked as awful as I was sure I did.
That was mistake number 4. Worrying more about how I was doing compared to everyone else and how they would view me versus listening to my body and the fact that it wasn’t doing so well at the present moment. Only when I very seriously felt like I was going to vomit did I finally exit the studio and catch my breath in the sweet, sweet air-conditioning right outside. After a few moments, I went back in to sheepishly rejoin the class, and then it happened – a few others stepped outside the studio to take a break as well. I wasn’t the only one. Me giving in to what my body needed had apparently given others permission to do the same.
I took a few more breaks throughout the 75 minute class but finished. When I went to the locker room after and looked in the mirror, my face was a deep purple shade that cannot be described as healthy. I chugged water like I’d been wandering the desert without it for a few days. As I walked to my car and turned the AC on full blast, I wondered to myself why I’d ever set such a rigid intention that was more about competition with myself and others than about getting anything meaningful out of the class. I wondered why I only felt better when others left the class too, why it wasn’t enough for me to know that my body, regardless of anyone else’s feelings, was too hot and that it was okay to do something to make that better.
Since then, I have tried to focus my intentions on healthier, more productive things. My intentions have become “listen to your body” or “focus on your breath” or “be patient with yourself.” I often have to remind myself that while yes, the girl in front of me is doing a perfect headstand, that this is not a race or a competition, to view those around me who are more advanced as inspiration instead of proof that I will always be behind, and that I am doing yoga for mental health and peace of mind more than to nail perfect poses.
That day, the road to overheating and disappointment was paved with what I thought was a good intention. Now I know that good intentions are the ones that allow you to reach further and dedicate yourself to something without fear of failure or punishing yourself.