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The Sounds of Life as you Practice are not Distractions but Reminders of All That Matters

Use the sounds that surround you to anchor you in the moment

My very first yoga teacher sometimes taught in a studio that faced a busy street. Occasionally, the sounds of traffic would filter into the room while we were moving and breathing. I’ve never forgotten her response to these uninvited reminders of the busy world outside of our quiet space: “If an outside sound catches your attention, use it as a gentle reminder to return to your breath and your focus.”

Surprisingly, over time, those sounds of car horns and engines revving became an integral part of the “soundtrack” of my favorite hour of the week and I no longer needed her verbal reminder to stay within.

The sounds of “silence”

To the casual observer, when I practice at my own studio it probably looks like I am practicing in “silence” – no music on, just the sound of my breath. In reality, though, this place has its own “soundtrack.” Depending on the time of day, the bird calls vary. The robins are out quite early. Later in the morning, I’m more likely to hear finches and crows. Depending on the day of the week, I might hear lawn mowers or the recycling truck. Every once in a while, I find myself grinning at the snuffling sounds of my dogs saying “hello” through the screen door.

Perhaps because of my first teacher, none of these sounds feel like distractions. They combine with the sound of my breath and pull me inward. They have become part of my meditation.

Peace within the sounds around you

Each year I spend a week at my family’s lake house in New England. When “at the lake” I practice on a little porch at the front of the house that doesn’t get much use. From my mat, I can see the lake sparkling through the waving leaves of birch trees. This year, I watched monarch butterflies feed on the columbine and foxgloves growing below the porch. As I practice, there is usually a soft breeze blowing which feels lovely. I love the feeling of the sun when it heats part of my mat. I can hear the water lapping against the pilings of the dock, the sound of boats cruising by and, when I’m really lucky, the call of the loons.

Again, these sights, sensations and sounds add rather than detract from the meditation that is my practice. They combine with the familiar act of synchronizing my breath and my movement to hold me – fully and completely – in this exact moment.

These are the sounds of your life

Thinking back over the years of my practice, I realize that I’ve always practiced to “soundtracks.” The giggling of my children in their playroom or their shrieks as they tore around the backyard while they waited for me to finish so we could go to the park. The blurred sound of my husband’s voice on a work call downstairs. The sound of the dehumidifier kicking on or the washing machine buzzing to a stop or the phone ringing. The sound of rain on the roof. The sound of the postman leaving mail at the front door.

These, I see now, are the sounds of life. My practice has always been and (hopefully) will always be surrounded by and imbedded in life.

Yoga is designed to support you in life, not to be an escape from it

In conference after a class I attended with him, Sharath Jois, the head teacher of Ashtanga yoga, said that yoga is designed to support the activities that fill your life. It is not meant to take you away from your life. I remember smiling when he said this and feeling deeply validated.

You see, ten years before that conference, I was sitting out on my driveway, surrounded by three children under the age of five (two of whom were bickering at the moment and one sobbing because her ball had bounced over the fence), and one rambunctious puppy who outweighed all three kids, wishing I could just leave this chaos behind and go to yoga – maybe three or four classes in a row!

Mid-wish, a feeling of epiphany washed over me. This was my life. There was not a single part of the chaos that was plaguing me that I would ever dream of letting go. I realized in an instant that yoga wasn’t supposed to (in the spirit of those old Calgon bubble bath commercials) take me away from this messy, crazy, hectic life. It was designed to support me – from within and without – as I navigated the often choppy waters of my life.

The sounds of life around you as you practice is a reminder of this gift

The soundtrack of life around you as you practice is a small reminder of this giant lesson. Yoga is a practice designed to help you get better at living. Not living some other, ideal, serene life on a mountain-top or beach somewhere else. Yoga is designed to help you live this (if you’re anything like me) gloriously messy life you’ve been given.

I’ll close by paraphrasing my first teacher’s words: Let the soundtrack of your life draw you within, to savor the quiet moments on your mat and all of the other moments as well.

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