Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lessons from My Mat

While on blogging hiatus, I was busy  deepening my practice and learning new tricks at what was affectionately referred to as "Yoga Bootcamp".  I, however,  felt that "Princess Camp" had a nicer ring to it, despite the fact that we were not issued tiaras.  Either way, ahimsa was frequently called into question there since the words "Are they trying to kill us?" were uttered almost daily over the course of our three week adventure :).

Princess Camp was physically challenging and, at times, both mentally and emotionally draining.  It was also exciting, inspiring, a beautiful way for me to reconnect with my practice, and a strong reminder of the things yoga has taught me about myself and about people, in general... very little of which has to do with pose and proper alignment.

And so, because I love a good list, I give you "Lessons from My Mat"

1.  We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and we get stronger just by trying.  Certainly this applies to the physical practice of yoga.  However, applied to almost any challenge we face, there is truth in this.  The human spirit is, indeed, stronger than anything that can happen to it, and we grow stronger with each challenge we face and overcome.

2.  We are all exactly where we are supposed to be.  I do recognize this on a very regular basis; however, I was overwhelmed by it in the midst or our first shared practice at Princess Camp.  The road to camp, for me, was not simple.  There was some serious single-mommy-guilt at play as well as financial concerns.  It would take a village to make the logistics work.  I struggled with the decision until I received an out of the blue, serendipitous phone call that served as an "all systems are go" sign.  It was the push I needed to commit, though, frankly, I still questioned the decision even as I set foot on that plane.  Soon enough, though, I found myself in a beautiful space, packed with like-minded people participating in a moving meditation to the beat of an African drum circle.  The energy level was indescribable.  There was no question that I was, indeed, where I belonged.

3.  The only thing we can really control is our response to that which we can not control.  Viktor Frankl talked about the space between stimulus and response as being our one true freedom, and I believe this to be true.  The gift of non-reactivity is one of the greatest things I have gained from practicing yoga.  Certainly the physicality of yoga requires us to be non-reactive, use our breath to soften edges, calm the mind and quiet the body in order to do things like hold poses, be they of strength or surrender, longer than seems reasonable or try a new arm balance, inversion or bind; but it is the off-the-mat application of non-reactivity that has changed my life dramatically.

4.  There is no "can't"... there is only "not today".  Each moment on the mat is unlike any other, as is each moment off of it.  Therefore, we must accept ourselves for who we are each day, meet ourselves there, and love ourselves in spite of our perceived imperfections.

5.  In related news... yoga has taught me to love my body in ways I never did before because I know my body so well as a result of my practice.  My back is bendy and I can rock out some cool backbends. My core is strong and I can sit in boat and have a lengthy discussion with you about any topic.  I can do fun things with my legs while in headstand.  I can fold myself into a yogi sammich while standing or sitting, and reverse namaste is easy and comfortable.  I know that firefly is hard for me because my arms are disproportionately shorter than my legs and that "bumping up" requires blocks, for the same reason.  I know that half pigeon on my right hurts and needs to be modified, but on the left, I can hang all day.  Self-awareness and acceptance allows me to appreciate my strengths, understand how to use those strengths to deal with challenges, and embrace who I am at both my physical-boat-holding and figurative cores.

6.  The most advanced practitioners of yoga listen well to their bodies and modify their practices in order to honor that.  We are advanced practitioners of life when we learn to trust our intuition.

7.  Real growth, be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, on the mat or off, requires us to get the hell out of our comfort zones.  Yoga has taught me how to find my edge and use what is available to me in the moment to soften it.  It is a beautiful reminder that we already have everything we need in order to take on the challenges life presents.

8.  We must let go of things that no longer serve us.  Perhaps we let go of a block in a balance pose because eventually we find that we can hold the pose without it.  Maybe we forgive a transgression because we recognize that we are holding ourselves back by staying connected to a past that can never be rewritten.

9.  We all fall down; it is in our ability to begin again that we find success.  Each of us has a unique curriculum to master.  The lessons will be presented over and over until we have learned exactly that which we are supposed to learn.  In turn, we learn the most when life brings us to our knees and we must find a way to rise back up again.

10.  Gratitude is the mother of happiness.  Be grateful for each practice.  Be grateful for the days on which your mind, body and breath cooperate and things feel effortless.  Be just as grateful for the days on which it doesn't... for those are the days that make you more appreciative of the better ones.  Life is good, even on the days when it feels like it isn't.  There is beauty all around us.  We just have to take time to notice and appreciate it.

So get on your mat, and take what you learn there off the mat with you.

A tiara is optional.