My three children are all currently enrolled in an intense singing and theater program. They come home singing and rarely stop until they turn in for the night. What they’re singing ranges from pop songs by Adele, classic musical theater songs from show such as Oklahoma and pieces from more modern shows that I have yet to see. I’ve noticed from the music swirling around me that the songs they are singing are a lot like life. Sometimes fast-paced, sometimes slow. Sometimes complex and sometimes simple. I’ve also noticed that no matter the song, they each have a part that gets stuck in my head and leaves me humming long after the singer has wandered to another room.
This part of the song is the chorus and it is designed to do exactly this – leave the listener humming after the song has ended. Musiced.about.com defines the chorus “as the part of the song that sticks to the mind of the listener because it contrasts with the verse and is repeated several times. The main theme is also expressed in the chorus,” making it the part of the music that emphasizes what the song is all about. The choruses that I’m left humming are the parts of the songs that are easy to anticipate and consistent, no matter how complex or diverse the verses. The choruses are repeated throughout the song to give the listener a comfortable place to which to return. The comfort of the chorus creates a willingness in the listener to be stretched and challenged in the surrounding verses.
It occurs to me that the days and weeks of summer can alternately stretch and challenge or provide a total respite. Let me explain. The break from the regular rhythm of life is one of my favorite parts of summer. That same break, however, can also make summer a little challenging. Unlike the rest of the year, which might have periodic crescendos and brief accelerations, but mostly marches along – verse by verse, if you will – at a steady beat, the verses of summer are less easy to anticipate.
Summer can easily swing from sudden bursts of fast-paced busy-ness to a spell of super-slow, lazy days. Exhilarating vacations are often followed (and necessarily so) by weeks at home focused on the simple business of life. Like vacations and staying home, summer’s bursts of busy-ness and the slower paced days each hold their appeal. It’s the shifting back and forth that can challenge me, leaving me a little out of kilter as I try to find and settle into the rhythm of each day.
What I’m looking for in between all these variable verses is the comfort and foundation of the chorus. My easy-to-anticipate, daily yoga practice helps me regain my equilibrium when I’m feeling out of kilter from the at times erratic ebbs and flows of summer’s days. It’s comforting to wake up and know how my day will begin. During my practice, I know what is expected of me – effort and awareness, a willingness to give of myself completely and the faith that I will receive gifts in return. During the variable weeks of summer, I especially relish the steady pulse of my breath and my movements.
In the song of summer, my yoga practice is the chorus. It’s the part of the song that gets stuck in my head. It’s the part of the song that reiterates day in and day out the most important message of the song of life – take time away from the busy-ness and business of life to regain perspective, take time to tune into your inner workings, take time to take care of yourself so that you can better care for others, take time to surrender mentally, physically and spiritually to a power greater than little old you.
Sometimes the verses around the chorus will be longer and take me further away from my foundation. These could be vacation weeks or particularly busy days when I choose not to unroll my mat. Just as the chorus of a song is comfortable, easy to come back to and filled with meaning, so is my practice. And, like every good song, no matter how long it’s been since I’ve heard the chorus, at the end of the day, it’s always there for me, humming along at the back of my mind.
No matter the pace of your days, no matter if you are home or away, I hope you enjoy these sweet summer days. And I hope that you, too, find equilibrium from whatever practice serves as your “chorus.”
Before you start leaping about and cheering that I’m going to give you a free pass to skip your practice when you feel too busy, or too tired, or too lazy to get up an hour earlier than you really need to in order to get your practice in, read on.
There are not many of these days. The days that I’m talking about are days when our lives demand all of our time, energy and awareness. In my life, the days that I simply can’t get on my mat are so rare that they’re memorable. Here is a sampling of such days from the last six months:
I’ve learned from these days that, while it’s almost always a better day when I practice, there are days when life is better because I don’t.
Which is why I decided to leave my mat at home when we left for a family vacation in Iceland. This highly anticipated trip was a celebration of our son’s graduation from high school. Even more important (at least from my perspective), it was to be a chance for us to spend time together after a particularly hectic spring and before our son heads off to college.
After some (OK, a lot of ) soul searching, I decided that to set my alarm to get up early and practice each day would hamper my ability to enjoy this extraordinary adventure and precious time with my family. I didn’t want to go to bed earlier than everyone else. I didn’t want to miss out on family breakfasts. I didn’t want to steal an hour or two away from the fun of each day. I didn’t want to be falling asleep in the car. I wanted to squeeze every moment out of this trip, to see every single sight, to say “yes” to every crazy idea my kids had while we were there, to be able leap into every activity with all of my energy and enthusiasm at the ready.
And I did. It was the trip of a lifetime.
According to many of his longtime students, but especially Tim Miller, who is quoted here, the founder of Ashtanga yoga (the kind of yoga I practice and teach), Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, “was very clear that one’s yoga practice is not meant to consume one’s life, but rather to support all the other facets of one’s life.” It can be easy to lose sight of this when you’re deeply invested in a practice that is designed to be done 6 days a week. It can be easy to lose sight of this when you’re hard at work on a particular posture. Or when you’re feeling great changes in your body. Or when you’re healing from an injury. Or … or … or.
But it is critical that we remember these wise words. Yoga is simply not about “jumping around on a mat” (to quote my teacher, David Keil). Sure, all that jumping around is fun and feels good and creates strong, limber bodies that we love. But these are by-products of yoga. All that jumping around is designed to teach us to be still – inside and out. To be able to give our all to whatever life brings our way – one thing at a time. To be able to listen – to the stirrings of our own hearts, but also to those we share life with. To be able to get perspective on the events of our days. To be able to create space from the storms of thoughts and emotions that can otherwise overwhelm us. To better live as the people we want to be – honest, centered, caring, generous people.
By choosing life over my practice for a week, I didn’t stop practicing yoga. I just shifted the focus of my practice to these greater goals. And it worked. I was able to stay in the moment throughout our trip – wholly enjoying whatever we were seeing or doing. I had the energy to keep up with my three teens and then some! (I climbed a couple of peaks that they sat out!) I gave my family my all for the week and they gave the same right back to me.
Looking back, the same is true of the other practice-free days that I mentioned. To have tried to squeeze my practice into any of those days would have added stress, depleted my energy and stolen my attention from what is really important – the non-yoga parts of my life. On days like these, to sacrifice my practice isn’t actually a sacrifice at all. Indeed it is a choice I can readily make knowing that my steady, regular practice has given me the ability to better give of myself to the ones I love in times of stress or times of fun. Which, when I stop to think it through, is exactly why I’ve maintained my daily practice for all these years.