It’s not about the toes…

david bikeLance Armstrong is right, it’s not about the bike. Sometimes what we think is the point, is not the point at all. I understood this recently, when I was surprised that I could finally touch my toes after six consistent years of yoga practice. But what was even more surprising to me was that it didn’t even matter.

Like Lance Armstrong, I am a veteran of triathlon racing (but not a veteran of performance enhancing drugs). I was also an expert in the dark, self-centred, narcissistic side of training and competition – not the fun, community, life-enriching experience many athletes achieve and enjoy.

Back in 2009 at 28, I was at a crossroads. After 14 years of trying I was either going to be ‘something’ in the triathlon world, or I was not. I chose to invest everything. So that year, I spent six intensive winter months doing all I could, in preparation for the world triathlon champs.

I had started practicing yoga two years earlier, trying to improve my performance through greater flexibility, balance and core strength. And it worked, after I started yoga, my performance came up and my times went down. What I didn’t realize at that time, was there are more important things than trying to win. There were more important matters to which I could devote my waking hours that would serve others as well as enhance my own life. I buried those altruistic interests for a long time. Until, that is, I was watching the elite men compete in the 2009 world triathlon champs on the Gold Coast.

Those athletes were moving fast. They were five years younger than me, and at least 10% faster. I could only imagine how much more work it would take to get to that level. I asked myself if I would want to spend all of my time trying to achieve that. And, if I did, would it really matter? Would the world be a better place if I raced at the front end of elite fields? Probably not, I decided.

Sadly, that wasn’t a moment of blissful enlightenment but it was a turning point. I set to work on months/years painfully reforming my life, letting go of the past and trying to find a higher purpose, something bigger than myself. Things did start to get better.

I let go of the bike, and dabbled in martial arts, music, dance, community. I have found more joy in 5km obstacle course runs than I ever found in five hour Half Ironman events. My career has changed from desk-bound policy and evaluation, into a more enjoyable hands-on gym management position. New people, perspective and possibilities entered my world. And that world is getting even better.

Yoga was the catalyst for the transformation from that old self-centred life. I am eternally grateful for those who have stuck close by in that time, and for those who have become part of my next evolution.

Four years on from that moment of painful clarity and I am a different person. This week, I will sit in the front of three yoga classes as a teacher, blessed to have the audience of people willing to come and practice together. In that seat, the questions that form the foundation of what I currently offer are simple.

  • What is your highest truth?
  • What is it that brings you joy and fulfillment?
  • How can you better align your life to achieve that?
  • And how can this yoga practice assist you?

Some people will disagree, but I believe that once a beginner moves on from the basics, the purpose of the pose isn’t the pose. It’s what you learn, cultivate and practice within the experience of doing/trying/failing/mastering the pose.

What I’ve learnt through that approach to practice, is that at the end of today I want to be remembered as someone who made a positive contribution. Because it’s not about the toes.

~ contributed by David Driscole