At the moment of completion after Savasana, when you roll over on your side and transition from your practice back into the world, I always say this line, “the real practice of yoga begins now, when you take what you’ve learned from your practice out into your life.” It’s not just a line. I truly believe that what you do on your mat is practice, reflection, and training for how you live your life.
Today has been a perfect example. After two days steeped in practice, I woke to a stuffy nose, a kid who refused to get out of bed, a car that barreled out in front of me, then flipped me off. Everything in me wants to rage, to point fingers, to scream and yell and wallow in my self righteousness. Yet, it’s in that moment that I practice. Even in the rising anger and frustration, I call upon years of practice and study to find a moment to make a choice. Do I move toward the balance and calm that I discover on my mat or do I lash out and react to the situations in which everyone’s perception is unique and colored by their own unique experience. Do I meet these situations with compassionate understanding or with reactivity and blame?
When I’m on my mat, I encounter myself. The tightness in my hip, the burning in my low back, the collapse of my chest. For years, I would meet these tendencies with a push back. A “NO” and then spend my time in my practice either running away from the sensations or berating myself for my imperfections. Years of practice and svadhyaya (self study) have taught me to turn toward the discomforts and shortcomings and to meet them with love and acceptance rather than a forceful desire to fix what is broken, or make right what is wrong. And this has radically changed my experience of life.
As I move away from striving for perfection in my practice, I have stopped viewing my imperfections as flaws. I have started to appreciate my unique imbalances as expressions of my individual truth, ones that make me authentically and beautifully me. Once I made this shift inside, I stopped teaching Yoga as something to achieve. If you are truly doing Yoga, you are simply and beautifully waking up to yourself, discovering the Yoga that exists at all times within, rather than the forceful practices and corrections that we so often characterize as practice. When my practice started to shift in this way, so did the way I viewed the world. I now realize that everyone, literally EVERY ONE, has the same struggles with imbalance and imperfection. EVERYONE has their difficulties and their unique expression of beauty and purpose. I don’t always agree with everyone, but at least I can move toward understanding them, because I am beginning to understand myself.
Rather than feeling that the calm serenity of my practice was stolen from me by the reactions of others and the frustrations of living life, I have begun to see that all of my life is an encounter with my practice. And outside of the controlled environment of the yoga class, the practice becomes more essential. The opportunities to encounter the tight spots, the desires to run away, or the intensity of discomfort are way more evident. The choices to stay grounded in truth, and meet each occasion with acceptance and love is more challenging, and even more fulfilling.
When my morning unfolds in a less than perfect way that’s when the real practice of Yoga begins. When I can open my heart in love, even while being stern with my kid, when I am compassionate to my slower pace because I feel under the weather, or when I can look the guy in the eye as he has his middle finger in my face and think about loving him rather than fighting back, then and only then is my practice is working.