The Growth Mindset of the Yogi - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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The Growth Mindset of the Yogi

Nov 05, 2014


Before you start yawning about another ramble on how wonderful yoga is for everything (yes, we know it aids digestion, yes we agree it's good for stress-relief, yes, yes, I'm sure it can cure cancer, yes of course, it can absolutely fix your leaking roof...) let me tell you that I am not going to talk about how healthy yoga is.

This letter is not about that, and yet I will be rambling about yoga.

It came to me the other morning when I was twisted up in some awkward position, doubled over trying to stuff my head between my knees and gripping my toes as though I was about to be swept away into a hurricane, ignoring the feeling that my spine was about to snap into two. My yoga teacher, in a perfectly matter of fact way, instructs me to 'Badhao'.

Push more. Push harder. Bend forward more. She wants me to badhao - increase - my effort and stretch further into the pose.

And I think, 'What? Lady, are you crazy?' I mean, this really is it. I'm not made of rubber. There's NOTHING more left to badhao.

But still I take a deep breath, release it, and with her firm but gentle hand pressing on my back, I reach forward and increase by another half inch.

I feel triumphant. I thought I was done, and yet here I am, 'badhao-ing'.

It doesn't matter that my fingers don't reach my toes or my feet aren't wrapped around my head - because I moved forward. And that mattered.

Develop a Growth Mindset through Yoga
Source: Victor Tongdee / Shutterstock

I wrote to you before explaining the growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset:

    Those with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities are what they are - if I can't do it then I can't do it, I just don't have it in me, there is no way around it. Those with a growth mindset believe the more they work at something the better they will get - talent and ability is a mere starting point that can be developed, anything can be learned, and obstacles overcome.

    - Why Does Zuckerberg Speak Chinese? Develop a Growth Mindset

I told you that I would show you a unique way to recognize and develop a growth mindset. And that way is yoga -it can help you discover a growth mindset.

If you keep stretching, the impossible becomes possible

When starting out with yoga you see your teacher do things like bend over forward and rest her head on her knees! You think, 'I could never do that, I'm not flexible. I will break my back if I even try!' That is your fixed mindset talking.

Over time, though, you see that where you could barely bend over at all to begin with, you slowly keep going further down each time. One day, you find that you're touching your toes with ease. You realize then that you may not have noticed it - but you were changing, your body was changing, your ability was growing, and what seemed impossible now seems like something you can do.

There is no end - you can just keep growing

The goal in yoga is not to reach a final pose - it's not touch your toes, or touch your head to your knees, or your head to the floor, and so on. The goal is to just keep moving ahead from where you are - to grow in some way or other. You reach further, you breathe better, you hold for longer, you focus more... and every day you grow.

You will not break, because you are antifragile

You can take pressure, a lot of it. Where you thought you couldn't ever reach, you reached. Where you thought your back would break, it became stronger and more flexible.

Yoga shows us that we are what the writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls 'antifragile'.

Fragile is something that breaks under pressure. Tough is something that can withstand pressure. But we are neither of those. We are antifragile, which means we get stronger with pressure.

When things get really tough, you sometimes worry you can't handle it. 'I can't take it. I'm going to snap. It's going to be a nervous breakdown.'

So you worry about impending breakdown and you quit. But yoga teaches you that won't break. When you start to see challenges as something that will make you stronger, better, more flexible, something that will make you grow instead of stop you, then you are in the growth mindset.

Sometimes there are setbacks

And still, sometimes you might break a little. Yesterday during yoga class I pulled a back muscle. It really really hurt. I know why it happened - I let my mind wander. I wasn't focused. I was thinking about something at work - and ignored the voice of my teacher saying, 'Go slower. Awareness on your back.'

Without awareness, you will pull a muscle, face trouble, challenges will arise. Even without awareness, challenges will arise. But challenges are part of the game, yoga teaches you to...

Breathe normally, and all else will work out

Class didn't stop when I pulled a muscle. I wanted it to, I wanted to just go lie down and groan and moan for a while. But I kept going. My teacher now changed course, and we were doing gentle asanas (yoga poses) to stretch and relax the pulled muscle. We also continued working on other areas that didn't involve the back.

In life, as in yoga, when you face a setback, you must go on. The discomfort will make you want to quit the pose. But when you're in that pose, your teacher will say in the calmest tone: Breathe normally.

When you force yourself to breathe normally, you find the tension releasing. In life when you get stressed out in one area - everything is disrupted. Work stress affects your home life, health affects your relationships, money gets you depressed. But if you can just stay normal through times of stress, and don't let it affect your mind and the rest of your life - then you will keep making progress.

Struggle and feel good about it!

With the practice of yoga you start seeing your own image change in your eyes. You are no longer the 'worst student in class' but now when you go to class, it is with the feeling of, 'I am about to struggle and feel good about it.'

What a great mantra for life... This is now going to be my own mantra for a growth mindset. Struggle and feel good about it!

If you can translate this ability from yoga to life, you will see the same growth there.

When faced with something you have never done before, you now know, that like in yoga, over time and with practice the impossible can become possible.

If you've never started a business, and the thought seems daunting, don't let that thought stop you. If you've always wanted to sing, but don't think you could understand music, because you just don't understand tones and rhythms and ragas and whatnot... don't let that stop you.

It is a challenge, but you know now that the struggle will make you stronger. You know now that the answer is not to stand on your head overnight and make millions, but to stretch and grow as a person, and move in the direction of your goals.

In life you will not have a teacher pushing you to grow, so you develop your own growth mindset to say: Badhao - push. To say: Focus, become aware. To say in time of stress: Breathe normally.

I practice yoga because I know that if I'm waking up day after day and pushing myself - then I am also preparing to face the challenges of my life, and insisting on my own growth. By stretching physically, I stretch mentally.

We all have the capacity for both mindsets within us. Become aware of when your own mindset is stopping you, then change it, and let yourself grow. In any and every direction - know that NOTHING is beyond your grasp if you aim for growth.

So do yourself a favour and push... badhao... and feel good about it!


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8 Responses to "The Growth Mindset of the Yogi"


19 Jun, 2016

It is an excellent way of explaining life situations with Yoga. In our every day life we come across so many events where we feel we are not able to think or the thought process just stops but when you are practising Yoga in your daily routine we are able to move ahead and not get stuck in that particular situation. The inner strength which is developed through the practice of Yoga is amazing. The experience itself cannot be expressed in words. Great comparison and thanks for the motivation.

sateesh K

06 Nov, 2014

what you have said is, how regular yogasana practice changes a person's attitude. All else follow .


06 Nov, 2014

Hi Anisa, Good to read the comparison between day to day life and yoga exercise. Great keep it up!!!


06 Nov, 2014

Hi Anisa, Good day Your articles are good and simple to understand. Thanks for sharing and keep sharing your thoughts thanks sriram

Like (1)

Shyamal Dey Biswas

06 Nov, 2014

It's a very informative article on "The Growth Mindset of the Youa". I trust this article might help the readers to enhance mindset thru practice on each day that too with proper confidence ( Inner voice of each person to achieve a predetermined Goal ). One of my articles relates more or less same on this subject for transformation of Negative Attitude into Positive Attitude. Wxpecting more uch informative aericles from Ms.Anisa. Rgds. Shyamal Dey Biswas.

Birbal kumar

05 Nov, 2014

Thanks , It is very good article and very helpful to weak hearted and weak brain and weak body person means all persons.... ..birbalskp


05 Nov, 2014

Hi Anisa, wonderful post again. As in yoga, some situations in life seems impossible or difficult, but with determination and hardwork one can very well attain excellence. I cycle in the mornings with my cycling club. The seasoned club members are capable of cycling 100, 200, or even a 600 km with ease. I was struggling with our regular 20km city ride. But with time and practice, I have finished a couple of 100km rides. Perseverance in life is an useful virtue, which I learnt from my cycling tours.

V A Sridhar

05 Nov, 2014

A very thoughtful and perceptive way of approaching life. Provided me with new insight to the way pain is to be veiwed. Wishing you to continue the good work and expecting more similar food for thought.


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