Life isn't linear and it doesn't stick to a plan. Sometimes you're up, and sometimes you're down. And sometimes that, too, can change in an instant and you find your world irreparably altered (not for better, not for worse).
I think a common error we make as humans is to assume that if an intention is 'pure' and we've set it in place, the work is already done. While intention is necessary to develop the framework of a particular goal or aim, it simply doesn't end there: every single day, we have important choices to make. Every day, we're faced with numerous challenges, big and small, all threatening to throw us off our game at any point. Every day, we can give up or go on.
So this is why we practice yoga.
We meditate because the mind is immeasurably powerful and equally complex, and it takes consistent effort to still the constant chatter of consciousness:
You let something go.
You hold on to something else.
You remind yourself of the beauty of your humanity and the fierceness of your spirit.
Similarly, we move through asana so that we can create a safe and sacred space to encounter and explore our full experience in these bodies. We learn through this practice that not achieving something is not the same as failure, and sometimes the thing we truly need is in the process rather than the achievement. We fall, but we get back up--
We ALWAYS get back up.
I've been doing this practice for over a decade now, and there are still times when I find it exceptionally difficult to be positive, kind, determined or focused. The struggle doesn't disappear just because I practice:
I practice to cultivate more strength for the times when the struggle inevitably arrives.
Each day can feel different from the moment we open our eyes and step back into waking life, and it doesn't take a whole lot of awareness or intention to feed whatever energy we happen to be sitting with (especially if it lands somewhere on the nasty side of the spectrum). If I wake up moody for no good reason and don't check myself pretty quickly, I'm completely at risk of derailing my entire day with negativity and self-pity.
Sometimes I find myself questioning my progress with this practice on the days when emotional stability and kindness is a challenge; I ask myself what I'm doing wrong, why these feelings are showing up at all, and how I'm not automatically a more loving and balanced person. But this is totally unhelpful because it lacks context, as well as a basic sensitivity toward myself for all the many ways I experience my own humanity (it's not always pretty, but it's not supposed to be).
Regardless of the normal fluctuations of our inner landscape - or perhaps because of them - I think it's important to continue the work daily, never assuming we've reached some critical end point of growth or progress in our own yoga practice, nor abandoning the devotion that we've been building through intention and commitment all this time when fear and doubt come calling. We practice simply to weather storms, not to prevent them from blowing in.
“Sometimes gain comes from losing, and sometimes loss comes from gaining.”
Tao Te Ching
So, then, what is the best approach? For me, it's been not deciding how I feel in every moment, trying to spend more time in my body and less in my head, noticing the dance of my breath with the space around me and through the inner landscape of my respiratory system, truly tapping into the way that intermingling feels. It's been loving myself unconditionally through my emotional ups and downs. It's remembering who I am in the grand scheme of things when I experience setbacks or feel disappointed with myself. This is essentially the practice of centering -- like coming home to yourself when it's storming. Like offering your wounded heart a warm blanket and a cup of tea.
This is, ultimately, an act of love.