I once overheard my husband singing yoga’s praises to one of my students. The passion in his voice caught my attention. I paused to listen because, at the time, he was a fairly recent convert to the practice and I wanted to hear the ways he felt it changing him.
“It’s totally changed her. While it’s clearly good for her body, the best is what it’s done for her on the inside.” (As he said this, he was making big eyes and dramatically pointing at his head.)
It turns out he was describing the gifts he’d received from my yoga practice!
Rather than getting bogged down trying to figure out all the ways that being married to me had challenged him before I found yoga (still pretty sure that’s a conversation that doesn’t need to happen), I decided to receive his words as yet another affirmation of the power of this practice. In addition to helping me find more peace and contentment in my own life, evidently it has changed my marriage for the better. That’s a big deal.
So, how does it work? How does bending, stretching and twisting on a sticky mat change a person so much that even their spouse is celebrating?
Rolf Gates, in his book Meditations on Intention and Being, writes
[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]The pose is what you are doing. Yoga is how you are being in the pose.” [/mk_blockquote]
In other words, the bending, stretching and twisting may be what we are doing and they may be in the pictures that fill yoga books, but they are not yoga.
Yoga is how we’re doing these things. Yoga is paying such keen attention to how we feel as we bend into a forward fold that we notice when our muscles let go a little allowing us to safely go deeper. Yoga is relaxing and breathing into a stretch rather than forcing or willing ourselves into it. Yoga is drawing our awareness away from the argument we had that morning that is re-playing on a continuous loop in our head, choosing, instead, to experience everything about the twist we’re in. Yoga is giving our all – our focus, our energy and even our strength – to whatever it is that we’re doing in any given moment.
It just so happens that the most obvious and tangible way that we practice yoga is on our sticky mat. After all, your friend will not know that you’re practicing yoga when you pay close attention to what he’s saying, listening so keenly that you know when it would be helpful to challenge him and when what he needs is validation or support. What your friend will experience is feeling cared for, safe and loved during that conversation.
Similarly, your manager will not know that you’re practicing yoga at work. What she will know, however, is that somehow, when working on a big, challenging project, you are the one she wants on her team. You always seem to know when to pause to regroup before moving ahead when the timing is better and the team is more prepared. You have a good sense for the group’s energy. You rarely force an issue. Instead, you choose to take a breath and spend time finding a solution that works from all perspectives.
Likewise, even you may not realize that you’re practicing yoga when you’re dealing with a frightening crisis. Over and over, you notice that you feel sick and helpless when you allow your worry about what’s going to happen to consume you. Instinctively, you keep refocusing your awareness on the present moment. You do this because you’ve found that it’s the only way you feel OK in the midst of the chaos – able to help, centered enough to deal with the rest of your life, sure of the step or steps that need to be taken right now.
In all of these instances and a thousand more, you are practicing yoga. You are putting to powerful use – easily and naturally – the skills you hone each morning as you bend, stretch and twist on your sticky mat. These skills have absolutely changed you. More importantly, in changing you, these skills are changing the world around you. One conversation, one project, one crisis at a time, the way you work with, relate to and understand others changes them.
Which is how it makes such sense that my husband – the person I am with more than I am with anyone else in the whole world – was talking about my yoga practice as he passionately persuaded a student to stick with this life-changing (even world-changing) practice.