Why failing is good for the soul

Our new columnist, Harriet Minter, explains why failing at yoga (or anything) is actually good for the soul

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Why failing is good for the soul

There’s a moment about 20 minutes into a yoga class when I know I’m going to cry.

Not the ‘emotional release’ of one whose soul is so Zen that they no longer have control over their tear ducts, but the petty, painful, bratty wailing of a four-year-old having a tantrum. I want to stamp my feet, pout and give the person next to me a shove, starting my own game of downward-dog dominoes.

‘I can’t do it!’ I want to weep, as I contort myself into yet another pose that my body is designed to resist. And then, I remember the thing I actually love about yoga; the reason I keep coming back… is that I’m really, really bad at it – and that’s OK.

I never meant to be one of those people who tell you how yoga has changed their life. I only went because my flatmate bought a ‘10 classes for £10’ deal on Groupon and wanted someone to go with her. She assured me it would just be a bit of gentle stretching, some deep breathing… Within minutes, my cheeks looked as if I’d been attacked with a pink highlighter and I was calculating the distance between my mat and the door.

When we had to do a shoulder-stand (it was actually advanced power yoga), I knew it couldn’t get any worse. The deadly combination of boobs and gravity turns a routine pose into your very own erotic asphyxiation. If you thought the most embarrassing thing you could do in yoga was fart, try suffocating yourself with your own breasts and get back to me. 

I left red-faced, swearing I’d never go back. But then, something strange happened: I forgot the mortification and began to feel proud of myself for surviving. It was that feeling that got me through the next class, and the class after that. I was hooked; I no longer minded that I was still the worst person. There was one hour a week when I got to be terrible at something – and no one cared. 

We’re taught from birth that achievement is our goal: we learn to walk and talk and are applauded for it; we go through school aiming for As; we try to be better friends, wives, mothers. Nobody applauds us for failing, for trying something even if we’re never going to master it, for falling on our faces and getting up.

Each week, I go to yoga and fail. Having the space to do so has given me something more important than success: it has taught me the joy of taking risks – whether it’s standing on your hands, speaking up in a meeting, talking to the guy on the Tube… You might fall over, you might fail, people might laugh, but you’ll get over it, and try again.

Harriet Minter is a journalist, speaker and former editor of  the Women in Leadership section of ‘The Guardian’. Follow her on Twitter @harrietminter.

Photograph: iStock