I have been thinking a great deal about the power of Will & Balance
— on your hot yoga mat and in your life.
As you know, a consistent hot yoga practice requires absolute and authentic will. The same thing may be said of life.
It is tricky though, because excessive willfulness leads to tension, and tension is the opposite of what we strive for in a yoga practice and anywhere in our lives. Why would we want to create tension for ourselves, ever?
Yoga is a profoundly powerful tool to teach us the balance between acceptance and will. Yoga teaches us how to live our lives, with grace and ease, tension free, with acceptance.
I think most of us hot yogis approach our yoga practice -- particularly those of us who do not yet have a lifestyle practice -- as primarily an opportunity to break away from all the stresses in our days, forget them for a while and simultaneously work to carve our bodies into more attractive shapes. It's an opportunity to chill and reset because when the work is done, and class is over, we feel re-energized and more peaceful and happier. We return to our loved ones, our work and our lives, renewed. These positive effects are long lasting and when we are in our skinny jeans and complimented for our heightened positivity and feel so good about ourselves, we abandon our lifestyle practice, thinking all this growth and improvement will last forever, but this really never happens. Unfortunately, the next stage is undeniably realizing we have lost all the magic our prior consistent practice provided, we are kind of forced to start over. We often return with the same reasons we started for but with even less self esteem because we now know how powerful it all was and we are mindful of our lack of sustaining a lifestyle practice and it feels like we have to start over. Sadly many do not. This is one place I take issue with challenges, because half do not return, they are 30 pounds slimmer, and happy from that and forget the more important power and even necessity of a lifestyle yoga practice.
I feel this is all good, though. And legitimate. And it makes a difference in the quality of our lives.
My Prayer for You
But that is not really my perspective. Or my prayer for you. I pray you have more. My prayer for you is that you deeply commit to say 90 days minimum where you will make yoga a dedicated lifestyle; and where you strive for a lifestyle based on a practice, a clear and conscious practice of the qualities that matter most. And that is not work, or the clothes you wear or the house that you live in. Let’s look inward and outward and act to and for each other. Not things. Lets work to celebrate our lives and our abundance and send the old ways of competition and materials on a permanent vacation. I pray that you make this practice your front and center state. Your health. Your peace of mind. Your mindfulness. Your being an appreciator and your open heartedness.
I have learned to use my yoga practice as tool foremost to improve the quality of my life. My prayer is for you to try this with me. My dharma is to encourage you to do this.
I have been struggling with this, in my own life. I have, you may as well know, not felt worthy of teaching you. Because how can I show you these things when I am painfully struggling with it all myself? I find myself feeling ashamed. I love you to much to go in front of you inauthentically.
You are the Key to My Balance
However the act of preparing to return in mid November has become my solution. (Incase you haven't heard, we’ve got some schedule additions the first week in November and I am excited to return to teaching 8 classes per week in mid-November!) In my preparation, I suddenly realized that you, the community I have been avoiding, are the key to my balance. And you are the fuel to my desire for growth and this fuel allows me to help by teaching to the best of my ability. You are the key ingredient in my life’s practice and you keep me in balance. And in doing so, all is circular and my passion for your wellness comes easy and then we all spread it around to everyone we teach-- love and mindfulness, ease and deep care for each other.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for reminding me that my life purpose is to show those who will listen, how yoga is the the practice gratitude, being kinder, and ultimately of becoming a more peaceful being who leads through compassion. There is no such thing as real health without a calm and peaceful mind.
Yoga Is A Practice To Be Integrated Into Our Lives
Yoga is a Practice. We cannot “do” yoga, we practice yoga. Life is a practice. Yoga, for me, is my life coach. My health insurance. My prescription for about anything physical or mental calling out for help, and my out of balance monitor. If I am mindful and work hard, eating the right foods and taking care of my body, then wanting to help others is organic and the obvious only way to live. It makes me feel good and all things in my flow with profound ease. Yoga is my mood elevator: my teacher who reveals the qualities in life that matter most, those I need to work on and those that come easy. And like life, the information, the practice of teaching is always different and changing and the practice of yoga is the mirror. Every day is different.
I think it is safe to say, that most of us for the first years, or even sometimes forever, approach our yoga practice as a temporary break from the world, a separate space where we can forget for a while, some miseries and where we can recover from life's stresses and strains. And we feel after rivers of sweat stream from our pores, upon leaving, as if we have pulled ourselves together in a few classes each week. We return to our families and jobs and lives off our mats, with the illusion we are all pulled together. I think this is legitimate. And we do, do this, to some degree. But only for a short time and not to the full degree. Unless we unite the time on our mat and the teachings from the time on our mat, with our time off our mats.
We need to consider the ultimate teaching our yoga practice provides, which is the work to unite our yoga practice with the way we live our lives.
A Work In Progress
I approach yoga from the perspective that I'm learning something that can be integrated into my life. I try to consciously and mindfully work on the qualities on my mat, that are revealed by my practice and apply the same qualities to my life. The reverse is true also by noticing reactivity in say the way I handle the overwhelming number of cold calls from people simple trying to do their jobs. Today I realized I have serious tension whenever they are received and this tension causes, honestly, the farthest thing from compassionate words I share with the stranger on the other end of the phone. And because of the mindfulness learned from my yoga practice, I see how far I have to go and I am reminded that self-discipline and patience and kindness and gratitude are the pillars of yoga. I am a work in progress. But I feel I am making progress because of the will to practice, and mindfulness of same and the undeniable passion to do my best to live yoga as a lifestyle practice. I want to bring more sacred into my life. I want to become more of an appreciator. I want to grow compassion and I want to know service, to really know service. And this requires diligence or will, and acceptance and mindfulness. And it is not easy. Because it requires consistent practice.
I believe that life itself is more than anything, an opportunity to practice gratitude and compassion , and to move toward wholeness of experience. Our hot yoga practices like yoga and meditation, provides us with a safe, nourishing environment in which we can gain stability and abilities that aid this greater practice of life.
What do you want for yourself and how can your time on your mat help you achieve this? What are you working on, in the hot room and outside of it?
If you have not yet, watch a yoga master or even an experienced teacher practice their asanas. You will immediately notice how relaxed they are in their bodies, and how this is reflected in their facial expressions of notable calm, very often with corners of mouths turned up ever so slightly, and a grace in movement. It appears as if they are exerting no effort.
No matter how much our teachers urge you to work hard, we never want you to create tension. This is something that students are adding themselves because their mind is participating as well as their ego. And yoga is void of ego. Yoga and ego cannot meet, philosophically.
I think one of the big challenges in a yoga practice and life practice, is how do we get out of our own way. Do you agree?
Watch a senior teacher practice asana.," I told them. One thing you will notice is how relaxed they are in their bodies, as though they aren't efforting. No matter how much they urge you to work hard, they don't mean for you to tense. That's something you're adding because your mind wants to participate. Just let your body do the work. Listen to your body and remain keenly aware of your breath. Much of yoga is learning to get out of your own way
What we really want to learn is how to incorporate our yoga practice into the rest of our lives and to respond appropriately to life's challenges without adding tension. It is at this level that yoga really becomes a deeper practice. You can be under tremendous stress and come back into experiencing your feet on the ground as though it were just another moment of Mountain Pose (Tadasana); or you can receive a big disappointment by falling out of an asana and rather than react, become be able to drop into your breath, realizing it's just another moment of practice, and allow the breath to move the feelings through your body, creating space and strengthening our parasympathetic nervous system so rather than tighten or sigh, we find a breath to carry us through that stage into one of more balance and ease and all the time mindful.
Take It Easy
Do your best with that you have uniquely each day. Accept that just as each day of your life is different, so will be your time on your mat because they are reflections of one another. Unless you perform precisely the same activities, eat the same food, sleep the same hours, and have the precise occurrences in your life every day, every day on your mat has to be different. We all know outside the studio, each day is different. We feel different upon waking, we eat different foods, sleep different hours and experience different degrees of stress. Yet too often still tend to blame any more challenging yoga practice days on on external forces at the studio – the heat, the teacher, the person next to us, the area we work from in the room, anything other than something to do with ourselves. We don’t need to blame anyone but we do need to look within as a silent witness.
Recently I experienced how easy it is for tension to creep into my poses when I attended a teacher workshop lead by someone I would call a Yoga Master. This master was both inspiring and demanding. I worked as physically hard as I could in each asana. I worked too hard. I refused to take a break and I even made a point to stay in a headstand the longest, just to show that I could and satisfy my ego.
I wondered, "Why isn't this master working harder?" I kept sneaking looks at him until I finally realized the truth: He was simply being the pose. He was practicing the asana and taking it easy, mindfully and and without tension. By little, conscious movements filled with stillness in between each inch of physical progress, he was making his way to his unknown “enough” by observing and listening, so very mindfully, with a lightness of being and in peace. He was grace.
In contrast, I was having to overcome the constraints caused by the tension I was adding to the pose. Later when I asked how he stayed so relaxed in a pose, while working very deeply, he commented the most important ingredient is to understand he difference of the "action" or the doing of the pose and "friction" unnecessary effort.
This to me, spoke magnitudes. Because for me, this unnecessary efforting concept applies to every aspect of my life. For example, whenever I try to do too much, in the end I cannot be mindful and often miss or neglect the best and most important parts of my day. I am tense and often most of the things that do get completed weren't necessary or weren't truly a priority.
One important consideration arises here – PLEASE don't confuse not adding tension with just hanging out in a pose. Of course you have to work all of your physical body in hot yoga. But never tense the arms, the quads, the shoulders or the back to work these areas. Instead, send your awareness to your skeletal system first and feel the profound stability it provides us. This also allows our central nervous system to remain neutral which is what we want in all parts of our lives. Mat, no mat times. Maintain that neutrality as you subsequently use your muscles to push up or deeper into the pose. Then activate (which does not mean tense) only those muscles for example needed to move the pelvis farther away from the arms, and to create space between the pelvis and the thigh bones, and between the top of the pelvis and the rib cage. You will discover that you can create more space in your body and hold the pose longer.
How can you tell if you're doing it correctly? Another of my teachers, Saul David will tell students to observe the breath; if your breath can't move freely, there is constriction in the pose and you must adjust the tension.
Shift Into Neutral
A question that arises for us all is, "What is the proper use of will in yoga and life in general?" On the one hand, it takes a certain amount of will just to practice, let alone grow your yoga practice, and the same is true in life. On the other hand, excessive willfulness creates undesirable tension. Finding the balance between will and acceptance is part of what you are learning in your yoga practice, just as you are learning what is the proper balance between pain and relaxation. One of the benefits of doing yoga is you begin to develop the intuitive art of finding balance in any life situation.
Another way to approach this question is to begin to differentiate between intention and willfulness. Intention is setting a direction for yourself in movement or in actions in your life and holding it as both a vision and an outcome, so that it acts as both an inspiration and a map. Willfulness is the determination to push through any resistance. The difference between intention and willfulness in this context is that intention implies flexibility and gentleness, while willfulness is absolute, unswerving, and rigid. Both intention and willfulness can be desirable, but for most of your yoga practice and for your life, intention is the more balanced, healthier approach. Again, you can learn to make these distinctions in the laboratory of the yoga studio and then carry them into the rest of your life; that's what makes yoga such a profound practice.
Neutrality is a key concept in movement. When the body is in neutral, it is ready to move in the desired direction without delay or additional effort. One way to assess your body for neutrality in yoga is to see if you are relaxed in beginning a pose and if you can maintain the sense of overall relaxation as you begin working the body.
Corpse Pose (Savasana), by the fathers of this ancient wisdom, is uniformly recognized as the ULTIMATE neutral asana when both the body and the mind and heart as well, are opened and alert and awake without any form of contraction.
Living your life with equanimity has the same flavor as Savasana: You are alert, but the mind is not attaching to anything; it is just appropriately responsive. Although the teaching of mindful equanimity is a Buddhist practice, you can imagine being able to go through your yoga practice and even your usual day while in Savasana. It may sound far-fetched at this point in your practice, but many people have varying degrees of this ability which they've attained through diligent practice. It's not an all or none situation; rather, it is about adding a little more calmness and alertness to your practice, your work, and your home life. Of course, you can be assured you will completely lose it and have to rediscover it, and that this pattern will repeat itself endlessly. But, overall, there is growth in your practice and in the quality of your life, and you have more moments of being able to live from your deeper values.
Is your life any different than your yoga practice? Is it possible to relax once you have fallen into tension in a moment of your life? My experience is that the keys are exactly the same. Letting go of tension in life is a lot harder to do than relaxing in Triangle Pose- this is one more reason to appreciate your yoga practice and practice with diligence.
Fall is About Balance Now is the perfect time to consider and apply these concepts. This is my prayer for myself, for my teachers and for each of you.
Let’s commit to a daily practice of 90 days to start and see what happens? Say hello to your physical body, the home of your spirit, and tell it every day that you will take care of it. Otherwise your emotional body will be neglected, even sick and lack ease.
Find a rhythm in your practice that will nourish your spirit. Find a spiritual practice based on balance.
Please feel free to reach out to me anytime and let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
To the one, the many and the all of you,
561 743 2300
561 339 7090 direct
Lose the handles, not the love.