My teacher Gina blew into our Monday class a couple of years back, breathless and wild haired. “Ok, y’all” she called us to our feet. “There are days I come in here all yogi and zen and there are days I come in and…” she looked around the room as we begrudgingly stood up, having expected a mellow start in child’s pose. “And it’s just fucking monday. So we start standing up. Because life doesn’t catch you in child’s pose, it drags you from wherever you happen to be standing so you better be steady. Goddess pose.” We widened our feet and lowered our hips into a standing straddle. Breathing slowed. Pulses mellowed. Hands to hearts. We began.
Gina has a way of keeping it real, of keeping the practice of yoga grounded in life. “What are we doing, really?” She’ll ask. “Because, if we’re being honest, we’re just a bunch of grown ups rolling around on the floor in neon spandex – kinda pointless in the grand scheme of things, you know?”
At first, I’d been taken aback – how dare this woman demean my practice in this way? This was my sacred space, my safe place, my opportunity for true devotion. But the more I practiced yoga with her, the more I realized that it’s just that, a practice. And you’re not even practicing poses to get better at them. You practice yoga to get better at life. When I’m in dragonfly, and I’ve got a slippery foot on the back of my arm, nose inches from the floor, worried that I might fart on the person behind me and that would be all it takes to send me face first into my mat, I remember to breathe and just try to keep my shit together. Because that’s the goal really – keeping your shit together. Really.
If you lose it in the studio, no biggie. So you didn’t stand on your hands with your foot on an elbow and your ass in the air tonight. So what. But you did pull in to your center, pressed down through your hands, out through your legs, felt your strength and drank in your breath. And maybe, just maybe, you got better at that, so the next time you’re in traffic and you get cut off and spill coffee in your lap as you realize you’re out of gas and you left your wallet on the kitchen table, maybe then you pull to center, feel your strength, take a breath and keep your shit together. And you get through it. And you move on.
The more I’ve practiced, the more I’ve spent time in this body, the more I’ve learned to listen to it. And though yoga teachers say all the time, “listen to your body” – what they mean is this: pay attention to how the yoga feels. Pay attention so that next time you remember. Pay attention so that you can detect the change that will undoubtedly come. Pay attention to what’s happening right now so that you can notice the difference between this and the infinite that that exists within this moment, and know where you are.
As we practice, the body becomes our compass. The poses just bend us different ways to measure balance and strength and presence and focus. When we are in any pose, notice where you’re headed. Measure. Move on. Bend the other way, and again, measure – subtly, intentionally noticing and letting go. Things change and notice, take a breath, let go. Things move and notice, take a breath, let go. Maybe things feel easier and notice, take a breath, and let go. Or they feel more difficult, but do the same. Let the body speak, so that as we move through our practice, or through the world, we are aware of how we feel in this moment, without judgment, but conscious of all the other options, should we decide to take a different tack. And, for the record, it is always a choice. You can hate this moment, or spend your energy breathing through it, noticing, so next time, you see the difference and take another step in a new direction, into the ever expanding world of what is possible.