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Failure is Part of the Territory

FIFA’s Women’s Soccer World Cup is over. The U.S. made an early exit. The missed penalty kicks were painful.

How do elite athletes execute their skills for optimal performance with all the internal and external pressures? How do they deal with losses? If asked, many would agree that managing their mind, the space between their ears, makes a critical difference. Failure is part of the territory so living with these setbacks and moving on is crucial.

At a recent Yoga Medicine Innovation Conference, I heard Dr. Daya Alexander Grant apply yoga philosophy to mental conditioning for athletes. I don’t work with athletes but I quickly realized that performance in any area of life applies.

In yoga philosophy a yama is a recommended duty or observance. Here are the five yamas as described by Grant:

Ahimsa means non-harming. Instead of dwelling on harmful self-talk, i.e., I can’t believe I made that mistake, try peaceful self-talk, i.e., that was challenging but let’s move on. Practice self-compassion.

Meditation teacher and author Alistair Shearer calls it a “dynamic peacefulness that is prepared to meet all situations with a loving openness.”

Satya means truthfulness. What are my core values? Do my thoughts, words and actions reflect what’s important to me?

Asteya means non-stealing. A scarcity mindset – not good enough, not enough time, not perfect – underlies stealing. Stealing refers to robbing yourself of the resources you need – sleep, time, and experience – to work on your goals and improve performance.

Brachmacharya means the right use of energy. Do an energy analysis listing energy drains and energy fuels. What habits, thoughts, situations, and people drain your energy? What practices, circumstances, beliefs, and individuals fuel your energy? Develop routines that sustain your energy. Sometimes pressing demands will necessitate an imbalance but look to correct your course in time.

Aparigraha means non-attachment. Focus on the process without gripping a particular path. Rely on your experience, intuit your feelings, exercise your thoughts but allow things to change.

As fall approaches, we turn to new goals. I’m taking Spanish lessons! No one will be lining up for a World Cup penalty kick (ouch) but we will face challenges. Let’s line up our core values with our actions, seek people and situations that sustain our energy, and embrace “dynamic peacefulness” when we face uncertainty. Your yoga practice might undergird these goals as you balance moving forward with letting go.


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