The First 500 Times Don’t Count

“The first 500 times don’t count.”

I heard this advice somewhere along the way on my yoga journey. I can’t remember if I read it in a book, or who said it, but this advice has steered me well along the way in my asana and meditation practices.

This anonymous suggestion gave me permission to not get things perfect the first time, or the first 10 times, or even the first 100 times. It allowed me to slow down and get to know myself better, to gauge my energy levels and needs with each daily practice, and to discern when I needed to push myself a little harder and when I needed to rest. I didn’t have to race to an imagined finish line. It helped me accept that whatever I gave my practice each day was enough.

This freedom also made room for the inevitable obstacles to practice to arise and be dealt with. Obstacles should be expected along the path. We are imperfect humans striving toward divine perfection, but we have a lot to work out.

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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras list nine obstacles (1.30) one might encounter on the inner journey:

  1. Disease
  2. Inertia
  3. Doubt
  4. Negligence
  5. Laziness
  6. Cravings
  7. Misperceptions
  8. Failure
  9. Instability

Every one of these obstacles could be a discussion in itself. The stanza that follows (1.31) describes the conditions that grow out of these obstacles:

  • Mental and physical pain
  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Unsteadiness of the body
  • Irregular breath.

Doesn’t sound fun, does it?

There are many days I have to wrestle myself into the studio for one reason or another. There are some days when I don’t make it at all. I think the important thing is that you just keep stepping back onto the mat, beginning again wherever you are.

I surely have passed the 500 mark by now, but I continue to take this advice to heart. The real benefit of a spiritual or yoga practice is in the doing, not the achieving. It is in the daily dedication and work that my “perfection” is unfolding. There is no “arrival”; it is a process of dynamic becoming.

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