Falling off the Mat: It Only Takes a Moment

Posted on April 14th, 2012 by in On and Off the Mat

 

Micah Mortali, Kripalu Yoga Teacher and Guest Blogger

We all go through phases in our lives and in our yoga practice. People come to yoga for different reasons: to get fit, to de-stress, to quiet their mind, or to experience the sacred and feel closer to what they consider Divine. In most cases, there is a motivation to improve one’s self, to change habits, or to shift the current trend in one’s life toward something more authentic or positive. You may recall what it was that first drew you to yoga and how that has shifted during the span of your relationship to the practice. You see, as we change and grow our relationship to yoga does as well.

These days I have a full time job running the volunteer program at Kripalu, I am newly married with an eight-year-old stepdaughter and a 15-month-old baby boy. My practice is not the same as it was when I was a single yogi living in a house share and teaching yoga as a sub-contractor.  I look back at those days sometimes and remember what my practice was like then: Waking up at 5:00 am, sitting on my meditation cushion with a single candle burning in the pre-dawn quiet, diving deep into my breathing practices and going on rich inward journeys that left me feeling light, inspired, and oh-so-very alive! I idealize those times now in my mind and sometimes I fail to remember the other side of the story, the moments of loneliness and longing that I felt to be a father and have a family.

My practice is different now; it’s way more off the mat. Before my son Stryder was seven months old I would practice every morning with him. I’d strap him into his little bouncy seat and he would sit there and look up at me while I did a half hour posture practice; closing my eyes and doing the breathing was out from day one—I have to see what’s going on with that kid at all times! Once he was rolling over and crawling my morning practice was gone. From that moment forward I followed him around, groggy and bewildered, throwing pillows around and making sure he wasn’t bonking his head. And that’s how it’s been up until now.  As I go through each day I do my best to stay conscious of my breathing, I try to be kind to people and respectful in my speech, I strive to remain present for my wife and kids, and I fail at it regularly.

I have come to appreciate four main lessons in regard to falling into and out of a yoga practice:

1)  Compassion. Having high expectations for oneself is okay. If we shoot for the sky we land among the stars, as the adage goes, but this approach must always be balanced with a healthy dose of compassion for ourselves wherever we land.

2)  Off the mat. It’s key to expand our understanding of yoga practice beyond the confines of our mat. Yoga is the science of what it is to live skillfully.  This includes our relationships with others and all our actions, not just the physical disciplines of yoga. If we can do this, the opportunities to practice increase exponentially and every conversation, every bite, every breath becomes our practice.

3)  The Witness. The core premise of yoga is that we are inherently Divine, whole, complete, and connected. I have found it crucial to develop a relationship to that part of me that doesn’t need to be fixed or changed. In Kripalu Yoga we often refer to this part as the Witness. Swami Kripalu is quoted as saying that each time we judge ourselves we break our own heart. Cultivating the Witness means observing our experience with compassionate awareness so that if we notice that we are having a judgmental thought we don’t judge ourselves for judging, we simply notice.

4)  It only takes a moment. It only takes one breath to change a thought, one moment to forgive one instant to start anew. Remember that we can come back to ourselves right now, with this very breath…

Tell us about a time you ‘fell off the mat.’

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  • http://www.facebook.com/carol.chromicky Carol Chromicky

    As an old parent to a new parent, I have a deep appreciation for your post. Enjoy this marvelous ride you are on with your child. I found my two children were my best teachers, in so many things and in so many creative ways. The yoga principles have applications ‘off the mat’ in parenting, in all things. Thank you.

  • Linda Fernandes-Bailey

    Beautiful article…I remember those days now my children are grown and my practice is in a whole different place as is my body. To everything there is a season…thank you for your reflection!

  • Lynn McGovern

    He looks just like you Micah.  You perfomred in the Kripalu Cafe before my daughters, Tamara and Vanessa played as a gift for the vounteers before they hit the road, back in winter 2006

  • Jasonfrost33

    Excellent piece of writing.. thank you for the grounded wisdom. 

  • Riderjane54

    ah parenthood.  a whole new perspective!  best to you micah
    jane michaud

  • Vanaprasthayoga

    Ah, Micah.  This is just what I needed to “hear” this morning.  Thanks for this blog and everything you do.  Namaste, my friend….Trudy

  • Kilikaren09

    Micah, just came home after a four hour car ride today from Kripalu.  My last class was the 5 Tibetan Rites just hours ago.  I immediately came to my computer to find ways to stay in the moment and continue to feel connected to Kripalu.  In fact feeling panicky that I would lose it if I was not on the mat….and my first click was on your post. Just what I needed to read upon my return.  Thank you for a wonderful experience.  See you again soon.

    • KripaluEditor

      Kilikaren,
      Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment. It is so nice to hear that the blog serves as a place for the greater Kripalu community to share and reconnect.
      Wishing you the best,
      Kim A. for Kripalu

  • Olivia

    So true that children are the most wonderful teachers and nice to read an article validating the changes in practice that can happen once children are there. Lessons in embracing the flow if ever there were some. I stopped and started when I read this though – “I have found it crucial to develop a relationship to that part of me that doesn’t need to be fixed or changed.” It implied to me a strong belief in another part of you that does need fixing or changing. I’m playing with this one at the moment. I have a suspicion that many drawn to yoga are coming from a deep-seated belief of inadequacy, of not being ‘good enough’. This efforts to constantly become ‘good enough’ can oh-so-easily easily be disguised as spiritual progress or work. I am experimenting with the idea of letting go of those parts of myself that I judge, so often, to be ‘less than’ —- the anxious one, the physically hyper-vigilant one, the loud one, the angry one, the un-regulated one, the impatient one, the trying-too-hard one, the falling off the mat one, the controlling one, the fixing one, the seeking one. What if —- those ‘parts’ were actually ok, really ok? Maybe it is only by embracing all of us that we can really start to live the lessons of self-compassion. It does not mean that we can not choose how to behave, or make amends where we want to (but without guilt and shame). I am finding I am picking up a lot in yoga training at the moment of the idea of an underlying perfect one balanced with a very imperfect one that needs “fixing”. I understand where those ideas come from, philosophically, but I want to take care myself. I think there are Steps programme lessons here too to be had – the idea of letting go of control (the relentless battle to control the self), as also compatible with self-responsibility and choice.

  • Kari

    I have grappled with theory and application of yoga for over 12 years now. Originally for me yoga was a cure – finally a cure that would end my suffering! The promise of bliss, peace, self-control, inner strength and self esteem was attractive, and I went in full steam ahead. But it took me years to realize that what I was doing was memorizing lines and practising being spiritual. Worse was once I had realized, it took me another few years to get through the shame of being a phoney! Today I take my practice more lightly. I stretch physically pretty much each day, but it’s relatively mellow. Asana is wonderful but getting more flexible or hand-standy is not a priority for me – never was. Being at peace within myself is the priority. Even though I’m aware of my tendency to memorize and theorize, I still go there – but the difference now, is how I treat myself inwardly. I happen to need a lot of loving care and forgiveness, and getting to gentle with myself is my yoga.