Some fundamental yoga wisdom that has kept me whole and happy for nearly two decades:
Here are five things yoga has taught me that I believe firmly and teach as often as I can:
- We are here to love one another.
- We are all connected in this world.
- Seeking connections with those who are different than us is truly the only way.
- What I practice will eventually manifest itself in my life.
- It’s perfectly OK to not be perfect.
Now for a true confession. Take another look at that list. Other than #5, I am struggling mightily with this entire list of quite fundamental yoga wisdom. In fact, were I not holding tight to good old #5, I would be absolutely dismayed with myself. Let me explain.
What went wrong?
For the last four + years (YEARS!), I have been living and working next door to an unbelievably invasive construction site. They are building a massive new house on the lot next to mine. (Honestly, I have never seen a larger home. In the aerial photo that a friend showed me, my home looks like their tiny garden shed. I’m not exaggerating.)
The work has been louder than I ever could have imagined. From bulldozers, to stone cutters, to chain saws, to back hoes, to a remote-control steam roller, to massive diggers, the noise has been relentless. They work six days a week from 8:00 until 4:00. I’ve been driven indoors from our patio on countless mornings and afternoons. I’ve been unable to leave my yoga studio door open while I practice or teach a class. Even with the door closed, I’ve had to resort to turning the music up and suggesting that my students use “outside noises” as a reminder to reconnect with their breath.
And for three and a half years, I was actually a pretty decent example of how a yoga teacher would handle living next door to an unadulterated, intrusive mess. Then they started killing the trees. Over the course of three weeks, they systematically cut down the “woods” where my children grew up playing. As if that weren’t enough, they then cut down the trees lining the edge of their property that made my street so beautiful to drive down.
Yoga class after class, I had to choke back tears as I listened to another towering, beautiful sycamore crash to the ground. When I was practicing myself, I didn’t bother to choke back the tears. I cried more times than I can count. Until the day I walked out my back door to see them cutting down a tree that, while it was on their lot, wholly overhung mine. It shaded my driveway and my yoga studio. It made my house feel bucolic and sheltered. Tears came again, but this time they were tears of rage.
I learn (the hard way) that feeling intolerant feels awful.
The surprising addition of fury to the sorrow I had been feeling for weeks and the years of strain from the incessant racket was the straw that broke this camel’s back. I could no longer see a “bright side.” In my mind and my heart, the workers next door and my new neighbors became “THEM” – my enemies, people I judged as lacking somehow, people I vehemently disagreed with in all possible ways. I searched my heart and realized that I could not find any compassion at all for them.
Mind you, these are actual people. People I was (and still am) existing within 10 feet of every single day. They are real-life people who I studiously turn my back on so I don’t have to see them. They are human beings that I DO NOT KNOW. I don’t know their stories. I don’t know about their families. I don’t know about their beliefs or their hopes or their dreams. What I know is how their actions have impacted me.
I also know enough to know that I am not living the lessons my yoga practice has taught me. I am not living any of the lessons I teach my yoga and philosophy students. I am not practicing love and connection. I am practicing anger and disconnection and that is what is manifesting in my life. I do not like behaving like a hateful, hard, heartless human. I do not like feeling like this. Even worse? All of this anger is making me feel like another “h” word – a hypocrite.
Awareness is the first step toward even the most challenging of changes.
In a flash of understanding last week, I realized that, while painful and upsetting, my awareness of how far from my deepest beliefs I have wandered is a gift. As I teach every single day, awareness is the first step toward change – sometimes big, sweeping change. In other words, if you don’t know your feet are out of alignment, your yoga posture cannot improve. If you don’t recognize your habit of telling little white lies, you will never be able to practice honesty. If you don’t realize you have a temper, you will never be able to become the calm, centered person you want to be.
My newfound awareness that I’m not behaving like the person I yearn to be makes change possible. And, at this point (I write this with a deep sigh), that’s really all I’ve got. I need to and want to change. Thankfully, I still firmly believe in #5 in my list above. It is perfectly OK for me not to be perfect. It is OK for me to have no idea how I’m going to get better at loving my neighbors or at least at treating them the way I would like to be treated. Not a single clue.
In addition to knowing it’s OK for me to be less than perfect, despite my current dismay with myself, I also still believe in #4. If I keep trying (i.e. practicing), I will get better at this. So, with a deep breath and a large helping of humility, I share with you my renewed understanding that living your yoga practice is ridiculously hard. It makes learning to take five deep breaths in the most challenging yoga posture you can imagine seem downright easy. But you’ve got to stick with it in order to have any hope that it will work.
You must make room in your heart for peace and joy.
Even more powerful, however, is my newer realization that living in a way that is contrary to the lessons I’ve learned on my yoga mat feels just awful. Take it from me. There is no peace and no contentment possible when you’re filled with disdain, anger and loathing. That knowledge is inspiration enough for me to keep practicing. And to hold tight to my faith that I will eventually, step by tiny step, make my way back to living and feeling like the person I (at least) am on my mat.
The same is true for you. And for my new neighbors, too. This is good news, because, to get back to the top of my list, there’s no getting around the fact that we’re all in this together.
If you, like me, really need to get on your mat as often as possible, check out our class schedule and join us at Yoga With Spirit.