We often hear in yoga classes such phrases as “this is your practice”, or “honor your practice”, but what does that really mean? For starters, why do we call it a practice and not an exercise, or a workout? I have said this time and time again in my own class, our yoga practice is not a place for comparison, competition, pushing ourselves past our edge, or trying to master every pose. I can tell you, in the history of all yogi’s, no one has ever mastered yoga. I suppose this may be frustrating to some, especially if you have a competitive or perfectionist side in you. However, learning to channel those traits can be of value. In yoga, it is time to set that aside.
We call it a ‘practice’ because it is essentially just that. When we get on our mats, we really aren’t quite sure what to expect. Every time we practice, it’s different. Sometimes I feel like a rock-star and my breath to movement is flowing, my poses are strong, and I am just in the zone. Other days, I swear I can barely get out of child’s pose. That is usually our bodies and minds telling us exactly what we need. We practice so many things on our mats. The physical asanas (poses) are only one out of the eight limbs of yoga, yet we so heavily focus on them in our practice. Listed below are the eight limbs just to touch on those a bit:
For me personally, my practice is a safe place. A place where I can come and just be me. There are no judgments. There are no expectations. No one calling after me. No one asking anything of me. A space where I can breathe. Where I can let go. Where I can just be. Honestly, this too is a practice. If you’re anything like me and most people in our society, it can be extremely difficult to create any kind of space in our heads. Your mind may start wandering the second we move into savasana. And guess what, that is EXACTLY why we call it a practice. We are continuously growing, and learning and stretching, and challenging ourselves in unique ways each time we entire into our practice.
The funny thing about yoga is the very thing you despise the most in your practice, is most likely the very thing you need. For example; for a very long time I despised backbends claiming, “I’m just not very back-bendy”. When in reality, backbends are incredibly vulnerable. Our hearts are completely exposed to the outside world. We are forced to be open. I DID NOT LIKE THAT. I realized I had been hiding a deep part of me from many people because it was uncomfortable to talk about. It wasn’t joyous, and I was tired of grieving. I wanted to move on and pretend my past never happened. So when I would go into any kind of backbend, my heart was exposed and it became very emotional for me. Over the last few years I’ve learned to like backbends. I won’t say love but I’m getting there. My word for 2017 was VULNERABILTY and boy did I need it. Some view being vulnerable as weak. I believe it’s quite the opposite. To share a side of yourself you may be ashamed of or afraid of is what others might think takes courage and bravery. Chances are once you do open up, many others will share with similar stories and experiences allowing us to not feel so alone.
When I first began practicing yoga, it was definitely all about the physical asana’s (the poses). The work. I wanted to sweat, and build strength and muscle and flexibility and do all of the cool poses and go upside down etc. And I still LOVE these things and all of this has its place. Then I moved into a difficult season in my life and learned that wasn’t what I needed at the time. I began taking more restorative classes, and meditation classes. It was difficult at first because I was use to movement. But once I could settle in, get out of my head for a bit, and breathe, my mental state of being became lighter. I could see clearer, I could finally let go.
I challenge you then to discover what your practice means to you. Maybe this year you start focusing more on letting go, listening to what your body needs, hanging out in child’s pose a little longer. Maybe this is the year you nail that handstand. Or maybe this is the year you finally just breathe.