True yoga is not only a practice on the mat, it is also the art of action (and non-action) that we have to practice every minute of our lives. It is the practice of keeping ourselves together when we are challenged in times of difficulty. It is the ability to let go when letting go is what must be done. It is the art of flowing as gracefully as we can through the winding road that is life on this planet.
Without doubt, we all have triumphs and failures as we try to navigate life; and hopefully the wisdom we learn in class, on the mat, gives us a chance to practice the grace of navigation in other parts of life. The practice of yoga is the practice of life: we start something and we are unfamiliar, clumsy, awkward. We attempt poses and we simply cannot do them at first; in a sense, we fail at what we are trying to do. However, we also learn that failure is only failure if we give up trying. Yoga has provided us with a little test of our mettle. How will we respond to difficulty and challenge?
Certainly you can storm off, roll up your mat in the corner of your house and leave it to collect dust, convincing yourself that yoga is somehow not worth your energy or attention. I mean, it does look ridiculous, doesn’t it?
OR, you could respond to the challenge and go back, unroll the mat and do the work to grow into the pose, finding comfort and grace and eventually that triumphant feeing that comes when you finally achieve something that you have been working hard for. Nothing worthwhile comes quickly. The harder your work for it, the more meaningful your growth. So, if you think about it, the worse you are at a pose, the greater your opportunity to grow if you approach it in the right way.
A successful life takes effort and attention, just like a pose. While it is wonderful to be terrible at a pose and gradually grow in confidence and comfort in that pose, the lessons are bigger than that. The cultivation and persistence that the pose taught you is meant to help you off the mat as well, for life will test you in the same way that the yoga has.
You will encounter the same dynamics of challenge in many other parts of life: work, family, relationship, travel, friends; your response will often be an expression of your previous experiences. If you have practiced trying, failing and persisting until you reach success, chances are that you will approach other challenges of life with the experiences of yoga guiding you.
Yoga is the microcosm (your mini, internal universe) and life is the macrocosm (the big, external universe). We learn and grow in the smaller, controlled circumstances of yoga practice and then take it out into the big world and practice in the same way. Yoga means ‘to join’ and truly there is no difference between the micro and the macro; inner and outer are joined. It’s just a matter of scale.
Another essential practice of yoga that helps us to be more successful in life is the quality of presence. Life is busy for many of us and our attention is so often pulled elsewhere, to some other place and time. In yoga, when we are being asked to remain in the here and now and not check out, the true nature of our mind is revealed to us. If can often be a little disheartening to realize just how far we are from the here and now in our minds! But again, the yoga provides us with the opportunity to practice in a small scale and then take it out into the rest of life.
We might go through the same lessons that we did with the physical postures: the realization that we are not as present as we could be and are actually pretty poor at being present, and then the response to the challenge. We make an effort and gradually improve and by doing so, improve our lives in all areas. By practicing presence in yoga, we are gradually more present for more of life: our partners, our work, our leisure, etc. Really, being in the moment is the essence of the practice and the essence of life.
When I feel the beauty of yoga’s influence on my life, I’m very glad I took the mat out from the dusty corner and kept on practicing. Yoga’s beauty is revealed gradually, in ever greater abundance. Never give up!
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