Let your definition of success evolve over time

I wake up at 5am and while I wait for the coffee to brew, I do a yoga pose. Not so much to do yoga, because yoga’s been torturing me for years and I’m sick of it. I do the pose to celebrate my kitchen floor. It’s so clean.

I do a sun salutation and push back on my hands to downward dog. I spread my fingers on the smooth wood floor. And as my head hangs I see the gleam of the grain in morning light. I think maybe I should have our housecleaner come twice a week.

I pour coffee and there’s no sugar because every night I put the sugar on a high up shelf to remind myself that I don’t want to be eating sugar. Then I tell myself “Fuck it–I can fill the sugar bowl.” Great. I will have accessible sugar.

Reaching for the sugar feels good, so I do the next pose in the Ashtanga series: Twisting triangle. I have been doing yoga for twenty-five years and still don’t know the Sanskrit names for poses.

I sit at the dining room table with sugary coffee. And milk. I added milk. So I’m basically having coffee ice cream for breakfast. I search the Internet for pictures of signs in NYC that have the new font.

Did you know there’s a new font for street signs? For the last 60 years the font for street signs has been the one sign painters used. It’s easy to paint large with a brush. When machines started making signs, we had the machines keep using the paint brush font. But there are easier fonts to read, and there would be fewer accidents if people could read signs more easily.

I cannot find any pictures. And my legs feel so good from twisting triangle that I do the next pose. Which I don’t even know the English name for.

I do know the series, though. And I don’t mind that it takes me a little longer to get into the pose than it used to. I’m doing it. I breathe.

Then I find the new font. I inspect it. Lowercase letters are good for reading because we see words as shapes. Like China Town Next Exit. And the lower case letters that have holes in them go a little bit above the line. The e’s in Bleecker Street take more vertical space than we would typically permit because bigger holes are easier to see.

I get up to get more coffee and I’m on a roll. I do Parsvakonasana. So I do know some names. It hurts the good kind of hurt and I take a few extra breaths in the pose which I don’t think I have ever done in my life because I hate doing yoga so I am always the fastest breathe and the first one to finish.

My son wakes up. This is why I stopped getting up early in the morning to do anything. Because I get all excited about my aloneness and then a kid wakes up.

I say, “Sweetie, are you okay?” He clomps down the stairs. He says he can’t sleep. He asks if he can sleep in the guest room. I say of course and tuck him in. He asks if I will stay in the room while he falls back to sleep. Right before I say some motherly version of “No, I don’t fucking want to sit with you because I already did it last night and once is enough and this is my alone time,” I kiss him and say, “Sure. I’ll be right here.” I do a pose while I wait. I accidentally skip a pose.

After he’s asleep, I make another sugar milk coffee. I write a note for the kids: “Remember today we are bedding down pigs after practice.” I write in cursive and consider rewriting it. It’s a dying art. Me writing cursive is like my first editor typing two spaces after a period.

I leave the cursive note. Maybe my kids will learn to read cursive. Maybe that’ll differentiate them on their college applications. Not that they need something else because I gave them my ex-husband’s Latino last name for that. And, anyway, no one needs cursive anymore. It’s like paintbrush street signs.

I heat up the milk because I like it scalding hot. I do the the next pose, then a sun salutation and then I’m back with my hands on the floor looking at the smooth cleanness and I see some specks of rice cake. So I balance on one hand, and eat them with the other.

My second cup of coffee is so hot I have to sip. I read that people who are abused frequently like things scalding hot – like a bath. And I read that people with Aspergers have sensory processing disorder that makes them not feel hot and/or cold like normal people. I am always wondering which one is the explanation for the scars on my arms where I’ve burned myself because I didn’t feel the heat.

I do the missed pose. Then I am standing in tadasana.

I think about my grandma. I stole books from her store. At the time, I told myself that I stole them because she didn’t pay me enough to work there. But now I understand that I stole them to try to feel more loved. My grandma let me live with her, but I always wished I could have stayed with my parents. Her love could never make up for my parents’ lack of love.

I do another pose. My feet lift and legs stretch and so many people will tell you “yoga saved me” and what they are really saying is when it was too hard to feel their heart, they felt their body and their breath, and we can only feel as much as we can handle but you have to feel something to live.

I am getting back into the order now. I do another seated pose. I do not miss my grandma so much as I miss the feeling of missing her. I have been feeling my body instead of my heart for so long. As a way to cope.

I have spent years writing on this blog about how I don’t have time for yoga. Or I don’t have energy for yoga. I wrote that I have to pick between kids and yoga. Or work and yoga. Or marriage and yoga.

But each time I was disappointing myself with my yoga practice, I was still doing it. You don’t need to do continuous yoga to do it. You don’t need to do yoga the same way you did five, ten, or fifteen years ago.

Yoga is like work. I’ve been obsessing about the lingo and trying to stave off change. I thought there were rules for how to be good at it. I thought I had to be doing a certain amount in order to do justice to all my training. But I can do bits and pieces in between the demands of my everyday life. And that’s enough for where I am right now.

53 replies
  1. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    This post is so beautifully written.

    I’m writing this down in my journal. It is simply brilliant. “I do another pose. My feet lift and legs stretch and so many people will tell you “yoga saved me” and what they are really saying is when it was too hard to feel their heart, they felt their body and their breath, and we can only feel as much as we can handle but you have to feel something to live.”

  2. harris497
    harris497 says:

    In order for my definition of success to evolve, I need to feel that I have evolved, and I do not.
    Being stuck in a psychological, financial, and/or social loop gives one the feeling of stagnant failure, and until you feel that you have progressed, how can your definition of success change? I can’t do it but I’d like to as it would make things alot easier for me…

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      This brings to mind the saying “Fake it ’til you make it.”

      If you can alter your definition of success to include taking actions that move you towards removing obstacles that are preventing your progress, then you will, in fact, have evolved.

      I used to be such a perfectionist that I didn’t think I could even call myself a perfectionist until I was perfect. Good times!

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      Instead of changing your definition of success, maybe you need to change your measurement of success. The outcome is out of your control. To measure yourself by something you can’t control is a failure to give yourself credit for taking action and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and expanding your knowledge.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Tip: success begets success. Figure out what you are doing right, right now. Be *in* that. Happy for that, fine with that, whatever makes you at peace with it. Then it will be easier to create the changes you are seeking.

  3. Nan
    Nan says:

    The first thing I learned about yoga, after reading about all the local yoga studios, and choosing one that was somewhere in the middle; neither health club yoga nor swami seeking acolytes yoga. I went to a mixed level class and the first person who talked to me was super-muscular yoga guy. He told me not to worry about what I could or couldn’t do or what others were doing; I’m middle aged and overweight. He said that even with all the yoga he has done, there are days that he just can’t do a pose he did the week before, or is unable to do it as well.

    That was very kind of him and proved to be helpful advice. The teacher was a riot; she would say the Sanskrit word or the English name for the pose and say random things during class. If someone asked what one of her random statements meant, she always said “if you have to ask what it means, then it’s not for you.”

    We started with a little chanting with candles lit during class and ended peacefully in corpse pose.

    The teacher was wonderful but I no longer go to yoga class; I took a workshop with the owner and I just didn’t like her and resented the knowledge that my payments supported her. Shortly thereafter, the beautiful yoga studio moved – the first location was beautiful, pale wood floors, celery green walls, the street side wall was mostly window.

    When I had gone to the workshop, the owner talked about how she was trying to get this wonderful space that she had looked at before and the business that had last rented it was gone. It had been a restaurant and the yoga studio moved there, with an orange awning, dark brown everywhere, with accents in egg yolk yellow and olive green, with a bit more orange thrown in. She didn’t change a thing, just used the space as it was.

    Class time hadn’t changed; it was always 5:30pm – 7pm but in the celery colored studio, I was peaceful and happy at the end. In the food place I was starving and crabby. When I got to the end of my prepaid card I stopped going.

    I really liked that teacher and have gone to other studios for a visit or two but haven’t found another place.

  4. Mary Bode
    Mary Bode says:

    I’m a writer who has been reading your blog on and off for a little more than two years. This piece is nearly perfect. Beautifully conveyed.

  5. Michael Aumock
    Michael Aumock says:

    This is one of my top 5 favorite posts of yours. I went back and read it, and realized that you wrote it “yoga style”… It flows like breath. Prana writing. (Which is WAY better than Ujjayi driving, which I tried a few years back).
    Anyway… I loved it, from 8000 miles away.

  6. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    Wonderful post. This is what I call “accidental exercise.” It’s 10 push ups in your bra and panties while the iron heats up or a set of stairs in between conference calls. People say they cannot get enough sleep, cannot meditate, cannot do scrum, cannot exercise, cannot go vegan. And I wonder why it all has to be a big, black and white movement and not just a bit more of one thing and a bit less of another.

  7. Ali
    Ali says:

    Thank you for articulating so beautifully why I do yoga: because my brain never shuts up and sometimes it’s good to take time just to be in your body and feel your body instead of feeling all the emotional stuff as well.

  8. Laura
    Laura says:

    Damn it, Penelope…Just when I think I’m going to unsubscribe, you reel me back in. I have to say, I love to love you and I love to so strongly disagree with you I vibrate inside. I’m in the early stages of blogging my way into recognition. I feel like slitting my wrists after reading some of your posts on career and the impossibility of professional excellence during motherhood. This post reflects everything I live by and the only way I have found can work if a woman wants to move forward professionally and be a decent mother. I’m sure your next bundle of insights will send me right back out onto the ledge, and I guess it’s for this that you remain an addictive enigma to me.
    Love to you, woman,

  9. Martin
    Martin says:

    I don’t know if asperger’s makes i difficult for you to read or make sense of other peoples dynamics and subtleties. But you sure know how to observe and write about yourself in a tender and nuanced way.

    (and combined with your tight and cool writing style – oh, fiction-writers have a lot to enjoy here :) )

  10. Rex
    Rex says:

    I think “coffee-brew yoga” is a growing movement – and it should be – it’s a great idea! Over the past few weeks several folks have mentioned stretching during coffee brewing as a daily practice. I tried it, and mine has evolved to something like Dr Oz’s routine, which works well for me

    Before I had kids, I did 90 min yoga classes and willingly worked late to finish things – now I do “coffee-brew yoga” and always leave the office without finishing stuff. It feels good.

    Thanks Penelope!

  11. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    This is exactly how my morning is since a couple sundays ago. Down to the scolding hot cup of sugar milk coffee.

    And the waking babies that want to cuddle on the couch.

    I don’t know what kind of yoga I am doing. But it’s a lot of in between and breathing and spiritual searching. And that’s good for right now.

  12. Julia
    Julia says:

    This is so good, thank you. I’ll be coming back to this one again and again as it relates so much. And I don’t do yoga.

  13. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    Hi there. Good artical I like the comment about the street signs I like the new ones u notice more unless it was just something new. As far as the sugar goes I think it is good for u if u use the natural sugar I believe they call it raw sugar in your coffee unless u r diabetic that would stink than u probably shouldn’t eat sugar. As for the last paragraph in regards to yoga I terribly disagree with u. I believe u should do yoga the same way 5 10 and 15 years down the road no offense but that seemed like a dumb comment. I like to do poses as much to the correct position as possible time and years should not alter that. Although new classes I welcome unless all health exercises are known I don’t know.

      • Theresa
        Theresa says:

        Oh well I usually do although i end up making a lot of them darn. So coffee brew yoga is new? Never heard of it seems dumb what r u going to get out of yoga poses intermittently getting coffee n taking care of kids and or work however I am going to try it tomorrow am if I can re-member. I am a class chick.

        Well forgot to mention slightly didn’t realize the picture can say a thousand words or if death doesn’t exist one word warmth

  14. CdrJameson
    CdrJameson says:

    I can’t help thinking the main problem with signposts in the US isn’t the font, it’s that they point out street names rather than destinations. You need to be right on top of your destination before they become actually useful.

  15. Amy Annan
    Amy Annan says:

    I love you! You speak my language, as I am up at 4am to get my alone time. I am wondering when I should do my yoga, as I sip my milk sugar concoction, dreading those footsteps pounding down the stairs…

  16. Lucinda
    Lucinda says:

    Penelope, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for years (thank you). This is my first comment. I’m inspired to leave it because this post is the essence of why I love your writing.

    When I get up in the morning to do pilates on the X Box and find my son playing Banjo Kazui Nuts & Bolts I want to tell him to get off because unlike me he’s got all day to play games and if I don’t do Pilates I’ll get backache and won’t be able to do stuff for him. But instead I watch him play and notice he’s building an aeroplane from scratch. And then I offer to make him porridge and while he’s eating I grab my yoga mat and do Pilates.

  17. Sharon Teitelbaum
    Sharon Teitelbaum says:

    Love your last line: “And that’s enough for where I am right now.” This is such a self-compassionate and appropriate message to yourself, a strong counter to the inner perfectionist we all have living inside us who yells at us for not doing more, better, etc.
    Doing what we can right now can be a highly effective way to live a rich, full life.

  18. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Love this post. Little snatches of yoga help me through the day in a very physically intensive career and I do a special delivery of healthy brunches to my local yoga group. I always manage to join the class for the last 15 minutes and it energises me for the rest of the day. Often I get new ideas for new recipes when I’m in a yoga pose!

  19. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I hope your sons become interested in and want to learn cursive. I would hope the last reason they would want to learn it would be to help them gain admittance to college. I learned cursive in elementary school and still proudly use it to this day. I have very good penmanship and many people compliment me on it. It makes me feel good that my ‘art’ is appreciated. Writing is also an art. So the reading of someone’s writing in their own cursive is a treat – a treat doubled. The author’s message becomes more expressive and intimate in their own handwriting. Also I would much rather receive a thank you note written in cursive rather than typed out or printed by hand.

  20. Chris
    Chris says:

    For me, swimming is yoga and running and meditation all in one. 15 years ago, when my kids were born, I had to give up swimming. Then, when they were about a year old, I was able to swim on a Saturday afternoon. The locker room was moldy, the lockers were rusty, the HS swim team was blasting headbanger rock. I was zen. Over the years, my swims have ebbed and flowed as I’ve squeezed them into the tiny holes in my kids/work/partner impacted schedule. 5:30 AM on a weekday. 7:00 AM on a Saturday. 4:00 PM on a Sunday. Thank you for reminding me that I am lucky that I have found that thing that recharges me and that I am not the only one who doesn’t want to get up in the dark and jump into a cold pool. I’d much rather watch the coffee brew.

  21. Erin
    Erin says:

    This entire post is stunningly beautiful.

    And this line took my breath away: “I have been feeling my body instead of my heart for so long. As a way to cope.”


  22. Nick
    Nick says:

    Success is about finding happiness, that all important equilibrium in life or life without too many worries / stresses. Thanks for the article. Nick

  23. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    “And that’s enough for where I am right now.” I will remember this line whenever anyone says something about getting married or having children soon.

  24. Di Herriot
    Di Herriot says:

    This reminded me a bit of knitting – the state of mind when doing yoga is a bit like ” the zone” when you are knitting. And the more boring the knitting challenge of the day, the more yoga-like the state of mind. I wrote a piece on my blog about boring knitting and its good points.

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