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 might 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.
Now that I’m part of a family of five, 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:
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.
Taking it 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.
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.
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…
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