Here is the conversation I have with myself each day:
“Do I really need to do yoga EVERY day?”
The embarrassing truth about me is that I am not super in to having a daily routine. Deep commitment to any practice (exercise, meditation, making the bed) does not come easily to me. I partially blame this on all those years as a nurse. Other nurses and shift workers out there will know how this is. For all of my adult years, my schedule has changed on a weekly basis. I have never had two work weeks that were the same. Under these conditions it is very difficult to develop any kind of routine, especially in your formative, young adult years. I have a bit of work ahead of me to undo old patterns. But, I have made the commitment to succeed at becoming a yoga teacher, and that means practicing every day.
So, for the past month I have gotten my lazy little self to the mat every day. Well, almost everyday. Ok, 90% of the days. I have good news for anyone out there struggling with a daily practice. Yoga is never the same from day to day, which means its never boring. Each time you hit the mat, it is like having a new and insightful conversation with your favorite person, YOU! And who doesn’t want to talk to their favorite person every day?
This is sounding a little Pollyanna, so let me elaborate a bit. In order to start really and truly enjoying a daily practice, I needed to first start coming to the mat with a slightly different mind set. Initially, I was freaking out about starting this teacher training program. I continue to have visions of a room full of rockstar acrobats and contortionists who can do 20 three legged Chaturangas and spin upside down on one finger like Crique Du Soleil. I am a little challenged in the upper body strength department, and I have a deep seeded fear and distaste for head stands. I blame it on my past life.
Anywho, initially I came to the mat with very concrete goal in mind: increase upper body strength, achieve a headstand, don’t look like an amateur. As it turns out, practice in that mindset was a total grind, and I cannot say that I noticed any appreciable improvement towards my goals.
Fortunately for those of us aspiring to truly understand and practice yoga, there are inspired and wise teachers throughout the ages who have written inspired and wise texts on yoga. My mind seems to be a little stronger than my increasingly pregnant body right now, so I turned to the texts.
In particular, two texts have encouraged me to make a subtle mental shift. The first, The Baghavad Gita, is an ancient Hindu Epic poem and one of the earliest texts to offer guidance on the practice of yoga. The “Gita” says in chapter 2, verse 47: “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward…” ( Translation by Easwaran, E. (2007). The Bhagavad Gita. A Classic of Indian Spirituality. Berkeley, CA: Nilgiri Press).
This is heavy, I know. The fact of the matter is, I like rewards. I am not a saint. But stay with me here, I promise it gets lighter.
Another, far more modern teacher of yoga, T.K.V Desikachar, tells us in his text, The Heart Of Yoga, that a central tenet of yoga practice is that everything in our lives, bodies, minds, is constantly changing. We are always in flux. The way we see things today is not the same as yesterday and will never be the same as tomorrow. Likewise, our energy, how we feel inside our bodies, our physical capabilities are changing day to day, hour to hour. (Desikachar. T.K.V. (1995). Foundations of a Yoga Practice. In The Heart of Yoga(pp 12). Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International).
So how do I connect these two notions? When I accept that I am starting with a new body everyday I hit the mat, it becomes a little difficult to attach my hopes to a particular, arbitrary goal such as “do two extra chautaranga today.” Who is to say that upper body strength is what my body needs today. Maybe today its the hips that are wanting work, or the breathing, or the spine. T.K.V Desikachar also stresses that yoga in its physical form, as well as in its meditative form, is purely an attempt to understand the self. We start each practice with nothing more than breathing for the purpose of checking in with our bodies, for discovering where we are and who we are today. I am paraphrasing very heavily, here.
When I come to the mat with nothing more than a desire to know how I am today, I find that each practice is a fascinating conversation with myself. The great gift of yoga is that you don’t know what it will give you every day. Yesterday I was pleased and surprised by how good twisting felt, the day before I was loving on back bends.
It is like unwrapping a lovely gift. You will receive a gift each time, but you just won’t know what it will be. So, there is reward, but not the kind we feel like we own because we worked hard for it. It is just given freely. We can accept it freely in the moment and then let it go until the next practice.
It feels immensely better to let go of my own goals and just practice in the moment. It is freeing to release yourself from all expectations and accept that you are perfect and whole just as you are today. And, I have to say, when I was able to adopt such a mindset, I did notice my body growing in strength and skill. I let the wisdom of my body be my guide rather than imposing my own mental conceptions of what I should be.
If you can try to come to your daily practice as though its an exciting birthday gift, a daily practice is far more fun and attainable. Who doesn’t want a birthday gift every day?
By the way, if you are not able to get to a yoga studio every day, or more to the point, you can’t afford it, not to worry. I enjoy practicing at home most days in the week using an app. I have found this app called Aaptiv. They offer outstanding quality guided yoga sessions for all skill levels. Its ok if you are not clear on all the terminology, they do a fantastic job of walking you through pose by pose. I am not interested in selling products in this blog, but this is a tool that has become invaluable to me.
Go hit the mat today! And Happy Yoga Birthday!