Yoga didn’t come naturally for me. I grew up playing soccer and watching football. I was a terrible sport at Monopoly because I was too competitive and my brother was a better manager of pretend property than I was.
The idea of a non-competitive quasi-sport where the goal was simply to “be present” seemed utterly pointless to me.
When a friend invited me to join her at a Bikram yoga class, I wasn’t interested. When she explained to me that in the specific style of Bikram, every class is exactly the same, following the same sequence of postures every time, I got bored just listening to her. Then she mentioned that classes are 90 minutes long and 105 degrees, and that she nearly passed out during her first class. Well, now I was intrigued. No chanting, a good sweat, and the chance to subtly compete with my friend by not passing out during my first class? I was willing to give it a try.
Not only did I not pass out during that first class, I totally forgot to rub it in my friend’s face. A crazy thing happened to me in that yoga studio: I stopped competing. I wasn’t thinking about how I was performing compared to the person next to me, or what the score was, or what my next move would look like. I heeded the instructor’s encouragement to stay in the moment, focus only on how my body felt, and let go of the rest. I was, as they say, present.
I came back the next day. And the next week. And the next month. A decade later, I’ve come to rely on yoga not just for the physical benefits, but perhaps more so for the mental exercise in being present and letting go of my expectations.
Despite the fact that every Bikram yoga class is always exactly the same—the same 26 postures done in the same sequence and held for the same amount of time, always at 105 degrees and always for 90 minutes—somehow each class feels different.
Some days I can do every posture with ease, certain that I’ve finally mastered it. Just days later I might find myself struggling to stay focused, begrudgingly taking a break in savasana to let my heart rate slow down a bit. I get it now, why the instructor often encourages us to let go of our expectations when we approach our mat, why the goal is really just to stay present in each moment. Just because it was easy yesterday doesn’t mean I can expect it to be easy today. Just because it was hard last time doesn’t necessarily mean that it will feel so hard this time.
Even though it’s always exactly the same, somehow, it’s not. It’s different each time because I’m different each time. And understanding that truth feels like winning to me.
This post was originally published at REI.com