Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making an Asana of the Self

Sometimes I am a Facebook junkie. I like to peruse the status updates in my news feed, checking out what my friends have going on in their lives. I look at all of the precious baby pictures, see the glow of love on the faces of new parents. And get a kick out of the classic comments about sleepless nights, pajama-clad days or the morning hustle from bed to breakfast to daycare, work and home again. Busy, busy, busy seems to be the pervasive mantra. But one recent comment stuck with me. It touched a cord. It made me grumpy. It went something like this:

"Yoga? What is that? Since having kids I no longer have time to practice."

My initial response to this post was confusion. Since having children, my yoga practice has flourished. My life demands that I practice every single day. I practice humility when I make a mistake and apologize to my children. I practice grace when they become frustrated and can't understand their math lesson, thinking that I am the one who must be wrong. I practice compassion when they are quick to anger or fight with each other over Legos. I practice trust when they run outside to play in the neighborhood. I am called to step into the flow when my daily routine is in shambles, grateful for an opportunity to practice "vinyasa." The days are brimming with the practice of cultivating awareness; with the practice of yoga.

Then a thought occurred to me that made my brow furrow and my arms cross. The thought that the term "yoga" has come to mean, simply, "asana." To take on a physical form. To move through a series of physical postures. In short, "yoga" has come down to making an asana of the Self.

I did a quick Google image search to (unscientifically) confirm my suspicion. I typed in the term "yoga" and came up with hundreds of images of poses on beaches, in grassy meadows, in beautiful studios. Postures in bikinis, postures with babies, postures on paddle boards, even postures with cell phone in hand! Don't get me wrong - I love that yoga is everywhere. I am not arguing against asana practice - it is a great part of yoga! But it is just that - a part of yoga. And often it is an initial introduction.

I can recall teaching weekly vinyasa flow classes at a gym. The participants attending class tended to be quite fit and came to class for a good work out. And it was! But it was also so much more than that. Week after week they returned to class sharing stories of discovery. They often commented that they "didn't know that they had that muscle." Their bodies began speaking to them, sometimes very loudly! They were becoming more aware, gaining the choice to listen more closely. A choice to modify poses. A choice for self-honoring. Through asana they embarked on another path - one of self-study or svhadhayaya.

Practicing postures on the mat creates an opportunity to realize how we position ourselves in daily life. Can we humbly recognize when balance is lacking and nudge a bit closer to the wall? How much grace can we muster when the poses just do not flow for us? Do we push when we are in pain or can we respond with compassion and modify the pose? When the mats are rolled up and the props put away, does trust reside outside the studio walls?

Asana is an essential element of yoga practice. It creates strong and limber bodies - fit vessels to house the multitudes within each of us. Asana is a safe way to begin exploring our bodies and our minds. It is the opportunity to shift the tone of our physical being as well as the spectrum of our thoughts. And when we move this energy off of our mats and into the moments of our lives we yoke our mat-based lessons to our daily life practices. This union is called yoga.

I don't recall whose comment struck this cord, but I have gratitude for this "friend." Initially sparking a bit of negativity within me, the comment encouraged thoughtful exploration of my personal, daily yoga practice off of my mat and into the everyday moments of my life.


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