Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view. – Google
There is a tiny, clear glass vase that sits empty in my kitchen window. It’s almost too small and lightweight to be of use. Even when it’s full of water, a single rosebud is enough to tip it over. Silly thing to have, right? Yet I can’t imagine ever getting rid of it.
While I don’t notice it very often, when I do, it makes me pause and smile. I would go so far as to say I’ve caught myself lingering over it.
You see, when my daughter was very young – two or three years old (she’s 20 now) – that little vase was very rarely empty. I had received it as a gift from my mom and my little girl was fascinated by it. Perhaps it was its remarkably small size, or the little glass “ruffle” around its neck. I don’t know. What I do know is that my daughter would spend hours and hours in our backyard and in the woods next door searching for treasures to fill it.
To anyone else, her bouquets would probably have looked like a crushed pile of weeds pulled from their garden – yellow dandelions, white clover buds, golden buttercups, purple wild violets crushed together in her tiny fist. Not to my daughter, however. From her perspective, those weeds were beautiful flowers. To me, in her hands, they were transformed into sweet gestures of love from my turbulent, tumultuous middle child.
In hindsight, those tiny bouquets provided a multifaceted lesson in perspective. They were a reminder of the sweetness at the heart of a child who was quite often shrieking or biting or otherwise trying to control the world (her brother and me, mostly) around her.
Even more powerful, they were a reminder for me to recognize that beauty was often unplanned and quite easily missed. Back then I was an avid gardener, hard at work trying to control a little bit of the world myself. Mostly, I was trying to rein in the weeds running rampant in my brand new backyard. The clusters of flowers she delivered almost every day reminded me to take a little joy in my mess.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”– Henry David Thoreau
Teaching yoga is, for me, another way to practice choosing my perspective. I won’t lie to you (or myself) – periodically a student comes my way who is strong, bendy and graceful. Sometimes, they have practiced for years. Sometimes, they just seem to be born for it. Either way, they are beautiful to watch. They are also fun and challenging to teach as I continually seek ways to help them stretch and grow.
Stop it. I know you’re thinking, “Well, she wouldn’t like watching me practice.”
You’re wrong about that. I love watching people like you and me practice. The most misaligned triangle pose (Trikonasana) in the world is a thing of beauty when you’ve had the privilege of watching it unfold from then to now. The same is true for the journey into tree pose or headstand. While the in-between steps along the way to developing the full expression of any yoga posture can feel (and look) awkward and even a little odd, they are sights I treasure as I guide and watch my students in their own journeys of growth and change.
In short, I wouldn’t trade those joys for the joy of watching 100 advanced students a day. They are as individual and as special as each of us are in this great big, diverse world. The way our progress unfolds on our yoga mats is as unique to us as our fingerprints. It is a privilege and an honor to witness each glimpse of someone developing and becoming. This is a beauty, I suppose, that could easily be missed by a newer teacher or an untrained eye who might not see what I see.
This is, in part, what my daughter was teaching me with her tiny bouquets. I didn’t need to wait for my peonies to bloom or even for the weeds to finally be conquered (which is good news, because they’re still out there) for there to be beauty to treasure in my yard. It was already there. She and I were both looking at the same thing. I just wasn’t seeing the treasure until she brought it to me.
All these years later, I can’t look at that little vase (or a patch of buttercups, actually) without remembering my beautiful girl’s gift to me – the certainty that beauty is all around us all the time. We sometimes just have to choose a different perspective to see it.
Do you see now why I can’t imagine getting rid of that silly, little vase?
Gain a new perspective on your yoga practice and a deeper, clearer understanding of your life when you join Amy’s Yoga Philosophy Master Class – online only or with additional mentoring.
“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus
Spring is such a beautiful and profound reminder that life is in a constant state of change.
My husband and I went away for two days this weekend and came home to an entirely different yard. Grass that had been dry, brittle and sparse is now lush and green. The bare, woody vines of the climbing hydrangea on our garden shed are suddenly green with leaves. Our little magnolia that had been dropping the petals of its white blooms is now covered in bright green foliage.
The pace of the change in our little garden is nothing short of dizzying. After the long, gray, wet winter, this is change I can get behind 100%. Just looking out my window at these changes brightens my mood. Sitting on my back step and soaking them in makes me think deep thoughts such as, “Change is a very good thing.” And “Change is growth.” And “Without change, we are not alive.”
And then I pause and think about the sore shoulder that is messing with my yoga practice. And my especially great semester at Villanova drawing to a close. And my youngest child getting ready to leave home to go to college. As I get overwhelmed with emotion, I look out at my yard and I think again.
If the unbearably muddy mess that was my yard mere days ago can transform into this lovely thing, why would I ever fight or resist or dread change? Because, just as there was nothing I could do to speed the drying of the mud (and end the need to clean eight muddy paws eighteen times a day), there is nothing I can do to stop or even slow these other “less beautiful” changes happening in my life.
Perhaps this is what the unknown sage meant when s/he uttered these words:
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – Unknown
I can let my sore shoulder tempt me into skipping my practice entirely. Or I can gently practice with it. I can study each movement and each sensation and learn a little more about what is causing the pain. I can honor my discomfort while it heals. I can trust (really, truly trust) that it will heal and that I will be doing all of my practice again in what will (in hindsight at least) feel like a blink of an eye.
I can head into class for the remaining Tuesday and Thursday mornings of the semester feeling sad about saying goodbye to this group of students who I’ve loved teaching and from whom I’ve learned so much. Or I can bounce into class excited to enjoy them – their willingness to try new things, their wonderful ability to connect yoga philosophy to topics as wide-ranging as engineering and politics, their ability to take the lessons I show up to share to a level I hadn’t before considered – a few more times. And I can trust (really, truly trust) that I will fall in love with my students next semester too.
I can stick my head in the sand and ignore the fact that my home life is about to change in a big, heart-rending way. Or I can embrace my daughter’s excitement about her next step. I can help her plan and dream (and even pack). I can do some planning and dreaming of my own for the new freedom that is coming my way. Sure, I might cry a little. (I’m definitely going to cry.) But, when I slow down and get still, I feel the little thrill that always seems to be hiding within the trepidation of a change big enough that I can see it coming from miles (and months) away.
Even in this change, I can trust (really, truly trust) that this, too, will be filled with life. That, as the mud out back dried and transformed into lawn, as bare vines and branches are now covered with leaves, that this next stage of life (and the next and the next and the next) will yield fulfilling and fruitful growth.
“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.” – Confucius
Clearly, I’m not among the wisest of men and women. But I’m not among the stupidest either, because, thanks to a two-day trip and a little lazing on my back step, I’ve decided that, for me, the growth that comes from all change is not optional.
How about you?
If you’re looking for change and growth in your yoga practice, have you thought about learning to teach? Amy’s comprehensive Teacher Training programme will give you all the tools you need to become a confident and capable yoga teacher.
If you’ve ever been on a blind date (or swiped right or left on a dating app), interviewed a candidate for a job, chosen your line at the grocery store based on how the person manning the register looks, or decided whether or not to engage with the young man with a petition at your door, you’ve made a snap judgment.
No, this doesn’t make you a bad (or even less evolved) person. Most of our snap judgments are harmless and, studies show, many are surprisingly accurate. For instance, within seconds, we can easily and correctly tell how shy or outgoing a person is, or how comfortable someone is in a group, or even if the person smiling at you is sincerely happy. (See Snap-Judgment Science by Nicholas Rule.)
When we can rely on the wisdom of experience, snap judgments make us more efficient. As an example, think about the complicated act of deciding whether to go or stop when a traffic light turns yellow. You have to assess your rate of speed, the braking responsiveness of your vehicle, your distance from the intersection, and oncoming traffic from other directions. Calculations from even one of these decisions could fill several pages in your old math notebook. Yet, when you’re behind the wheel of a car, you must make your choice in an instant.
The skill of making snap judgments is actually hard-wired into our brains. It happens beyond our awareness, deep in the unconscious mind, and is being studied extensively by psychologists. Knowing more about how we make these hasty decisions doesn’t just tell us more about ourselves; it could have a significant impact on society as a whole. Learning more about snap judgments, in other words, could shed a great deal of light on how individuals and their actions are affected by biases, assumptions and stereotypes.
It can seem paradoxical that, despite the fact that snap judgments happen mostly beyond our awareness, it is important that we’re aware when we’re making one. How on earth is this even possible?
Mindfulness practices such as yoga train us in maintaining a state of mind called being the observer. In this state of mind, we are observing more than our actions and thoughts. We are actually developing an awareness to very subtle emotions, impulses and feelings (Becoming the Observer by Gary van Warmerdam). This awareness allows us to (gradually and with practice) change our behavior at a deep and lasting level.
Yoga keeps things pretty simple in the beginning. We learn how to observe our body – what it can do, what it can’t do, where it’s straight and where it’s crooked. When that becomes manageable, we learn how to stay aware of and even to control our breathing. When that becomes manageable, we begin to work with the mind. We begin to notice (to observe) what we are thinking about while we are practicing – whether we are focused on what we are doing or whether we are daydreaming. (Mind you, this progression often takes years.)
When the ability to observe our thoughts becomes more manageable, we are ready for a deep dive into the practice of being the observer. We begin to notice our reactions in postures – the hard ones and the easy ones. Is our impulse to back off when something is challenging or scary? Or do we jump in with two feet and little caution? Does our immediate reaction (“No way!” or “Yeehaw!”) dictate our action? Or are we able to take a breath and mindfully choose how we’re going to navigate a posture?
Weeks, months or years of practice being the observer in the relatively stress-free, safe confines of our yoga mat can be profoundly fruitful. We discover that all of this practice has given us a keen awareness of parts of our mind which have lurked in our unconscious for most of our lives. That’s right! Even the part of the mind responsible for making snap judgments.
As the observer, we can determine the quality and source of the impulse that initiates our snap judgment. We can continue to rely on the ones that help us quickly and accurately determine whether to stop at that yellow light or to continue a blind date onto dinner. We can hit pause on others in situations that require more thought – such as whether to hire one candidate over another. Best of all, we can notice when our snap judgment comes from a place that is not well-grounded, such as a bias or even a stereotype we grew up with.
In short, as the observer, we can actually choose our snap judgments mindfully. Quite a feat!
If you’d like to experience the benefits of a regular yoga practice, including helping you to observe more deeply and make more mindful snap judgments, come along to our regular classes in our warm, supportive community.
“When life feels too big to handle, go outside. Everything looks smaller when you’re standing under the sky.” L.R. Knost
The sun came out last week. In addition to spring’s longer days gently shooing winter away, this broke a profoundly long stretch of grey, wet weather. According to our local meteorologist, the week we had of blue sky days was the longest stretch that we’ve had without rain since July 9!
As sunny day followed sunny day, I noticed significant changes in how I was feeling. I was waking up before my alarm. I had a spring in my step. I found myself laughing more. It felt a little like I was stretching awake from months of heavy sleepiness that I hadn’t realized had settled over me.
As much as I know the added sunlight helps me when the seasons turn, this week it felt like something more was going on. I noticed that I was getting more checked off my list despite the fact that I was sneaking out to walk with the dogs for 45 minutes each day. Hmmm. Maybe I was getting more done because I was sneaking outside to walk the dogs?
Maybe simply getting outside under the sky daily and taking some deep breaths of fresh air after months of being mostly trapped inside, was making life feel more manageable?
My first round of research yielded information that my yoga practice has taught me over and over again – in sum, breathing is good for us body, mind and spirit.
As my yoga practice hadn’t changed during our long, wet winter, there must be something more going on. An article on MentalFloss.com had some more answers:
In fact, the wise writers of Gossip Girl agree –
“Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.”
With all of that, it’s no surprise that even a little time outside each day last week left me feeling energized and brighter. In fact, it could be said that getting outdoors was like giving myself a happiness infusion!
Until it’s warm enough to unroll my yoga mat on my patio, I’m going to keep following my dogs around the woods near my house. How about you? What will you be doing out there under the sky?