I had an exchange of emails today with my sister and brother. My sister just started Bikram, and she says that she loves it even though she stinks at it. Even though I know what she means, and from that standpoint I pretty much stink at it as well, I answered that being good at Bikram means nothing more than trying your best and making gradual improvements.
So today's passage was especially fitting. Gates says that he sees beginners all the time coming to class with the same obstacles: fear and pride. Pride sets a standard, and then we pass judgment on ourselves and approach the practice with fear that we won't live up to that judgment. I've noticed again and again that athletes, and experienced yogis from other disciplines, tend not to return. I think they get beat up more than their pride can stand, and decide its not for them. On the other hand, people in terrible shape tend to come back more frequently. Here, I think we (since I was one myself) come to Bikram with very low expectations from ourselves. Even with those low expectations, we might fail to live up to them. But the benefits are so immediately obvious, that it also becomes easy to overcome our disappointment with ourselves. So we come back for more benefit, and perhaps learn either to discard or live up to our expectations.
Gates says that discarding expectations is the key to long term success. That's one of the reasons I changed the format of this blog: I had the feeling that analyzing each posture, each day, was getting in the way of my progress. Worse, it was making the yoga itself feel a bit stale. Since I've switched the format, I'm starting to see the classes again as part of a bigger picture, and I look forward to them much more.
Having said that, its really tough to let go of expectation and judgment. It can happen in some moments. I'll be in a pose and everything is going nicely, and then I realize its going nicely, and that blows the moment. The "ah-ah" moment, the moment of being pleased with what I've done, actually seems to dampen the pleasure.
Of course, this is much less a problem than getting frustrated or down on myself for some shortcoming. For that problem, the best advice I've gotten is from Bill Johns, who sold us our pianos and first told my wife about Bikram. He said that the most important thing to do is to "be kind to yourself."