Friday, August 29, 2014

Going Through the Motions

Let me be honest. Sometimes I go through the motions. Sometimes I don't notice the small joys that accompany each day or each breath. Sometimes I don't count my breaths on my mat. And sometimes I don't know how many sun salutations I've done or even if I've practiced both sides of my warrior pose.

These distractions on our mats are common for most, if not all, yoga practitioners at every level of practice. But what about when you take these distractions off of your mat and into your day? Here is
my average day:

Each morning I get up around 7am and go out of the house to do something: yoga, running, cycling, paddling, swimming, etc. I return to my home by 9am to have my breakfast (always porridge, meaning oatmeal made with milk rather than water) and a few cups of coffee. While I eat my breakfast I generally read the local paper online, peruse the same websites and check various email accounts. When I am finished I prepare to homeschool my kids and, generally, make more coffee. Throw in different types of work on different days (sometimes I teach yoga, sometimes I teach public speaking, sometimes I teach health and wellness) and I've essentially created the last 7 years of my life.

The consistent sequence of my life sometimes reminds me of practicing consistent  sequences on my mat. I remember a performance I once saw that punctuated this point. I was at a Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado - what a breathtaking place to explore for 10 days of yoga bliss! Yoga Journal conferences generally include a Saturday evening event - like a concert or Kirtan or something. The 2007 conference showcased performances by the yoga dance troupe named Tripsichore. One performance in particular had a lithe yogi robotically walk into the middle of the stage, unroll her mat and begin sun salutations. Only there was no joy in the sun salutations, no lightness, no soul, no grace. Only movement. Robotic movement. She went on with her routine, moving through the opening sequence of the Ashtanga tradition choreographed to industrial electronica music.

A practitioner  of Ashtanga, myself, at that time, I laughed at the mechanical representation of the practice on stage. Ahhh, yes - we Ashtanga practitioners carry out the same sequence, day after day, week after week, month after month until we become proficient enough to continue into the next series which will also be practiced in the days, weeks and months to follow. During that time of my life the seemingly infinite days of future primary series taught me to focus on the present rather than getting caught up in the endless prospect of future poses. I learned the discipline of waking each morning to practice, even though at times my bed was a much more appealing prospect than my mat. My poses advanced. I grew strong and flexible. I grew to be a terrific asana practitioner. But what about the rest of the practice? The joy? The heart? The soul? Had I become the mechanical practitioner that I'd seen represented in Estes Park? Or worse, was this practice on my mat representative of how I live my daily life? Was I just going through the motions? The horror!

The truth is that sometimes we all go through the motions. Sometimes the objective is to just "get things done." I can't honestly say that I think about the individual blades of grass as I cut my lawn. And sometimes I don't pay attention to the water running down my hands or down the dish while I am at the kitchen sink. And yes, I admit, sometimes I am unaware of what my son has told me because I am mentally absent as he speaks. But when this practice becomes our way of life - when "sometimes" becomes "often" or "always" - we lose the heart of our practice. And we lose the feeling of life.

It is the blade of grass, the water and the listening moments that make up the simple joys of each day. We practice this on our mats by - you guessed it! - paying attention to our breath, one inhale and one exhale at a time. This is what keeps us in each moment. This is what ignites an awareness of feeling in a pose. This is the cultivation of awareness that allows us to slow down and take notice of what is actually happening around us and within us. This is the practice of yoga, on or off of the mat.

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