People are often confused by the fact that we practice yoga, not do yoga. I prefer the word practice, because the idea is that there is no end and no beginning. Practice evolves and changes. Your yoga poses deepen with practice and the understanding from doing the poses over and over becomes richer and more complex throughout your life.
Practice implies that there is no perfection in yoga. What is the perfect pose or the perfect execution of a pose one day may feel terrible the next. And your perfect pose is completely different than my perfect pose. The practice grows and develops as we learn intuitively what our body needs. After a long trip, Viparita Karani, might feel great, but to your seat mate on the plane Sarvangasana might be better. (Legs up the wall and shoulder stand). In just this small physical way yoga starts to come off the mat as our awareness, intuition and self-care increases.
Yoga, Sri Aurobindo tell us, is all life. And this idea of practice and life has been sitting well with me lately. Some of the people who have the most difficulty with yoga are perfectionists. The idea that the body and mind are different every time you’re on the mat and therefore new each time you practice is nerve wrecking. The idea that there is no real way to get it right escapes so many. But for those that are willing to stick with it this lesson of embracing the imperfect and consistently focusing on beginner’s mind, yoga slowly starts to seep into other areas of life.
And this is the thought my brain comes back to over and over. When I was in my 20s I thought that when I got to my 30s I would get it. That things would fall together and my life would be set. I was already a yogi, so I wasn’t looking for outward success, but more a comfort, a knowing. And it didn’t really come. In fact, there was a lot of upheaval and tough times in my 30s.
So I thought it would come in my 40s. In some ways it did. In some ways I got to a more comfortable place, a place of knowing. But the knowing came from all my yoga lessons. Things didn’t come together because of a certain age. There’s a wisdom from the mat.
My mentor says that everyone signed up for Life 101 and somehow I got in Life 301. Because I tend to get more of those things that are out of our control than most, like my mom’s breast cancer and getting plowed from behind at a red light and….well, we could talk about this for awhile. But I think these tough these that we all experience are just more of the practice. When I was 22 big upheaval would flatten me and it would take me a long time to get back up. Today, big things happen and I take a deep breath (and maybe a nap) and continue on.
The comfort that I have now, that I didn’t have in my 20s or 30s, is practice. Cause I’ve been here before and yoga has taught me that there is imperfection and it’s beautiful. Sometimes a practice is hard and I struggle and sometimes I can flow seamlessly through an hour on the mat. But either way, on the mat or off, I’ve been here before and I will move past this place and on to the next.
Lately, it feels like I’m in complete beginner’s mind as I practice my cooking skills to cook professionally again. Learning flavors and skills, being inspired by colors and aromas is exciting and fun and feels like those first days of college or those weeks when we brought the first baby home. Putting my life back together and building a new life in a new place with some new people is challenging and exhilarating and makes me want to jump out of bed every morning.
I am again in a place where beginner’s mind is easy, because so much is new and I’m in a place of upheaval. This time, though, I’m enjoying the practice. I guess I used to say I was enjoying the path, but paths often go somewhere. They take me from point A to point B and this practice will end and I’ll get up in the morning and get back on the mat and I’ll turn around it do it again and again.
The biggest gift of focusing on the word practice is that it removes all expectations- of performance, perfectionism, or outcome. It lets me be free and just enjoy, even when life throws unexpected difficulties my way.
Getting on the mat day after day can change your life. You don’t have to practice for an hour, you don’t have to sweat. You can meditate one day, stretch another, practice balance poses on another. Just get on the mat.
Let yoga seep into your life.