Yoga has made me certain that the differences I discover between myself and others can be life-giving. Each time I’m struggling to find something in common with someone else is a moment that could be filled with growth and mutual learning if I can stay open and curious about the differences between us.
A contemplative practice such as yoga provides quiet, respite from the stream of thoughts created by our mind by teaching us two skills. The first is the power to notice our thoughts. This awareness, in turn, gives us the power to disengage from them. In the quiet of my practice, it often seems as if my thoughts are bubbling away at the far away surface of my awareness while I’m peacefully resting in a deeper place where my thoughts are not at all important. This space from my mental chatter is, in essence, me shutting up and allowing myself to be loved.
It is surprisingly easy to forget that yoga postures are a means to an end. Please read that again. And again. All the jumping around we do on our yoga mats is not yoga. It’s a part of yoga. (In another essay, I’ll get into the nitty gritty of how tiny a part of the practice it is. I’ve got solid arguments that it’s somewhere between 1/7th and 3/196th.) The postures are a tool that yoga offers us to help us better experience the gift of our life. They are a tool that yoga offers us to help us live more like the people we yearn to be.
Do you feel hurried all the time? Do you sprint through your days? I used to be a fast person (a fast walker, fast talker, fast eater, fast worker ...). Yoga has changed me. I'm now a little slower because I've learned how to immerse myself into my experiences each step along the way. It turns out that slower is a very nice way to be.
Yoga had something new to teach me about practice – and it didn’t take long to do so. Almost before I knew what was happening, I realized that I was practicing yoga not to get better at doing yoga, but to get better at approaching life the way I was learning to approach yoga on my mat. When I practiced yoga, I was practicing a way of being. I kept practicing because I wanted that way of being to become a habit that supported me all day long.
Is it possible to eagerly anticipate an event and still stay present to the moments of your life? It absolutely is. In fact, anticipation has been shown to increase happiness levels for up to 8 weeks before an event, which means you're better able to enjoy every single moment in those two months!
Yoga gives us the space to act like better people. We feel better in our bodies, so we’re pleasanter. We have the space (physically and mentally) to take a deep breath, so we’re calmer and more even-keeled. We’re less distracted so we’re able to be fully engaged and compassionate with whoever is right in front of us. We have some space from our feelings, so we’re less likely to react and more likely to respond mindfully. All in all, yoga helps act like the people we want to be.
I did not have great experiences with philosophy classes in my years of higher education. Somehow, not a single one of my professors had ever been able to make me see the real-world applications of all these things that other people, ages ago, had thought about. When I started to study yoga philosophy, I understood immediately that it is less about ideas and more about living. From the very beginning, it was clear to me that yoga philosophy was something I wanted to think about. More importantly, it was something I wanted to do – all of the time.
One day, sitting in my driveway while the kids played with sidewalk chalk (which was infuriating because two of them were throwing it over the fence rather than drawing with it), I had an epiphany. I was being called to live my yoga right here, right now. This crazy, messy life was my metaphorical mat. My real-life challenging postures were these lovely little people who were simultaneously driving me batty and overwhelming me with love. Because of my practice with yoga philosophy, I understood that this life (my life!) is a gift. In that instant, something inside of me softened and shifted. I stopped fighting. I stopped looking for an exit. I opened myself fully to my life and received it as the gift it is.