When I am not practicing yoga...
When people ask me, "Why do you practice yoga?" this is my answer...
I have been practicing yoga, with varying degrees of intensity and frequency, for 20 years. My practice shifts and bends with my shifting needs. Normally, I have a devoted vinyasa practice. In very stressful times, I have opted for a quieter, less aggressive yin practice. For two chaotic years, I practiced only Ashtanga, whose steady routine helped me feel more centered and stable. (More on that love/hate relationship in a later post.) Sometimes, other things took center stage, like a new baby, and my yoga practice became erratic, or even just an occational reminder to myself to BREATHE. Sometimes other movement modalities have felt right in my body, like Pilates for postpartum, or dance, gymnastics or movement. So, I have a rich experience of living life with ample time devoted to yoga and also of living life without much yoga to speak of, and here is the difference as I see it: Yoga doesn't fix my problems, but it makes me more capable of dealing with them.
Yoga doesn't fix my problems, but it makes me more capable of dealing with them.
The volume is at 11
Imagine you are trying to think of a word; it is right on the tip of your tongue... but the radio right next to you is on a news talk show. And also, the TV in the next room is blasting an advertisement. And the teenager upstairs is blaring a rock anthem - one of your favorites, so you know every line and can't help signing along a little bit in the back of your mind. Your neighbors next door are arguing and their voices leak through the thin walls of your apartment. And your toddler is standing next to you saying, "momma, momma, momma, momma, momma..." And somewhere outside car breaks are screeching in the tell-tale way of an on-coming accident, and the person to whom you are trying to speak runs to the window to see what is going on... Now, what was that word you were trying to think of? This is how I feel when I am not practicing yoga regularly - life is frustrating, chaotic, and NOISEY!
Now imagine someone comes in and turns off the radio and the TV. The neighbors all settle down. The toddler goes for a nap. The traffic clears. And the person to whom you are speaking comes close to you and looks you in the eye and waits patiently for you to think of your word. When I practice yoga regularly, it is like the volume on life gets turned down a few notches.
Of course, yoga does not always take away the problems, distractions, and worries. But it does create in me the right conditions to be able to handle the problems, turn away from the distractions, and identify which worries warrant my attention and which do not.
When I am not practicing yoga,...
...My body is not resilient
When I am sick, tired, weak, sore, stiff or injured, and I am unable to move and feel my best in my physical body, I am not resilient. When my posture is weak or misaligned, my breathing cannot be full and effective. That is problem-producing. It makes me self-conscious, causes me to miss out on things I want to be doing, and leads to a negative cycle of fatigue and de-motivation. But when my yoga practice is regular, my immune system is stronger, my body is more capable, my breath comes more easily, and I am not as distracted by physical limitations. One way yoga directly turns down the noise on potential problems is to keep my body healthy and performing well.
...My mind is a jumbled mess
I am a multi-tasker by nature (or training, maybe?) and am easily swallowed up by long to-do lists. My mind can become so overwhelmed with creating plans, replaying scenes from the previous day, or reminding myself of errands and chores, that my head is literally full of noise! I generate so much distraction within my own mind, that I have trouble focusing on the tasks or people in front of me. Sound familiar?! But, I notice that when I have a steady yoga practice, I am able to retain information more easily, focus on one idea or person at a time, and complete a task to my own satisfaction before moving on to something else. Yoga doesn't magically mark things off of my to-do list, but I am overall more effective and more productive when I have a steady practice. I find this especially true when I am regularly practicing some sort of flow yoga. I think the demands placed on me in a flow practice: that I focus on the alignment of one pose at a time, that I wait in one pose with full attention on that pose for just a few seconds or maybe one minute and then move on, that I am not in a pose long enough for my mind to wonder, and that I am really engaged in the play between my breath and body in the pose - these habits I build in a flow practice prepare me to be attentive and efficient in other areas.
...My worries weigh me down
I sometimes worry that my young son will be catch a terrible disease. (A global pandemic isn't helping.) I worry that I will lose my legs in a bus crash and not be able to do the things I love nor teach movement for a living any more. I worry about money, my friends, family, society, and the planet. Sometimes I worry that I won't be able to sleep and then I can't sleep because I am worrying about not sleeping...Some of my worries are well-founded, reasonable, and within my scope of influence. Some are not. When I am not practicing yoga regularly, I have trouble organizing which are which and all the worries pile up into a big noisy mess that weighs on my heart, the result of which is a less patient, less compassionate, more frustrated person, quick to anger. But with a regular practice comes a hugely increased ability to sift through my worries and identify which ones are really a threat and which I have some control around preventing or affecting. Often, after a yoga practice, when I come back to my worries, I find that several of them are not so worrying after all and that even if all goes to shit, I can see a way to deal with the fall out. Again, practicing yoga doesn't guarantee that I won't be hit by a bus, but it does help me to put things in perspective so I am not carrying around the weight of all that worry.
The bare minimum
Some day in my perfect world, when I don't have toddlers who need me and when I have a beautiful in-home studio devoted to uninterupted hours of yoga, I will practice every day again. But realistically, it doesn't take that much to notice a huge difference. I am better prepared for the noise of life when I can practice at least 2-3 times per week for 45-60 minutes of flow followed 15-30 minutes of meditation. And in the weeks where that is a big ask, just sitting down for 20 minutes of breathing meditation or even taking child's pose in the play room while the little man crawls on my back... it is well worth the effort. Truly, every little bit helps.
Why do you practice yoga?
What differences do you notice in yourself when you have a steady yoga practice?
How has your yoga practice changed over time?
What is the bare minimum for you to practice to notice a shift in the "noise of life?"