So much of the time we walk into these beautiful studios and classrooms filled with colorful props and light filled windows and serene floors… and we expect that our body will reflect that same experience… clean, clutter-free, warm and inviting… we step onto our rectangle of plastic or rubber and we hope with all hopes that this next 60 or 75 or 90 minutes is the answer to the hardships of our day, our week, our year.
We set our intentions with the truest and most sincere steps. We get into awkward poses, struggle to keep our breath steady, press our big toes down and our inner thighs back and try to keep our gaze turned inward and our ears and hearts open…
And yet there are many times when we walk away still heartbroken, still anxious over work, still worrying about finances and relationships and body image. Why is it that if we make our intentions clear and we do the “work” that our efforts don’t equal the inner equivalent of the studios we step into or the image we have from pictures in the yoga magazines?
Like any other PRACTICE or PATH, yoga is not a silver bullet for what ails us (or a plastic/rubber rectangular one for that matter), and fully awakening to the wisdom of the body, breath, mind and heart won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in a year or 10 years. This is a journey that takes a lifetime (or lifetimes if you subscribe to that notion), and like other paths, we begin to learn that it is the path itself and the process of awakening that IS the beauty of ourselves in our yoga.
Perhaps over time we get a little more flexible in our hamstrings and a little bit stronger in our core. Over time we get a little more flexible in our minds and a little bit stronger in a healthy sense of self. Day by day, pose by pose, we learn when to work harder and when to let go and surrender. Our awareness of our body becomes more subtle and curious, and in turn our observation of our mind reflects that.
In a lifetime of physical movement and seven years of yoga practice (and now a burgeoning meditation practice) I can say that I never walked out of a classroom with an epiphany or a new way of living my life. With my most stalwart intentions, I never came out of Savasana with those intentions fulfilled. But I can say that over time, little by little, day by day, I have found myself more able to listen to myself and others, more tender and open, stronger and more flexible in mind and body, and perhaps most importantly, more willing to be patient and WITH the process, rather than needing to have some ultimate to reach.
I too still have broken hearts, still worry about finances and career success, still get impatient and say things I regret later… as do every single one of my students and teacher friends. But over a long period of time and practice, those things have softened and perhaps lessened in intensity and frequency and my compassion toward myself has grown immensely stronger in those very uncomfortable feelings and moments.
Did I learn it all from yoga and meditation? Maybe not. But I like to think that perhaps yoga and meditation have given me the tools to really learn from myself and others in a more genuine and open way. And to be more open to process rather than product.
And so I say absolutely use opportunities for practice in beautiful settings. Set your deepest intentions. Do the work. Pray. Hope. Bask in the bliss of post-savasana or a moment of a still mind. And in between those moments of sweetness, in the times where you are stressed and disheartened and lazy and hating life.. there is still a glint of light that is the path and the practice. Stick to it and you may find that in five, ten, twenty or a hundred years from now you are a little bit softer, a little more kind to yourself, and more genuine in all that you do and are.