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Don't Let Yoga Stress You Out

"'Do your Yoga,' not just any Yoga but your Yoga, your participation in your own opposites. Elevate asana to the extreme religious priority, non-obsessive spiritual responsibility and practical means that it is."    --Mark Whitwell

There was a time when I had to force myself to work out. When I finally stopped procrastinating and actually did it, I felt good. Yet if I broke my momentum by skipping a day, one day off from working out would invariably turn into 5. When I started practicing yoga, this old thinking was still in the back of my head. Needless to say, in the beginning I didn't fancy skipping a day of yoga practice.

After much svadhyaya, I realized that I was too attached to my yoga practice. So much so, in fact, that I would feel badly if I didn't practice, and beat myself up for not doing so. Sort of goes against the whole idea of yoga, eh? Not only did I fail to practice Ahimsa, but I was turning something wonderful (my yoga practice) into something unpleasant and rather harmful. I harbored some sort of silly belief that if I didn't do my yoga, I wasn't good or spiritual or able to get through the day with ease. I defined myself as a yoga practitioner and if I didn't practice, I felt lost.

While I still like to practice often (4-6 days/week), my world doesn't fall apart if I don't. Now I sprinkle yoga throughout my day (5 minutes of pranayama here, a little bit of asana there) in addition to a steady practice. Yoga is a thread woven into my daily life that it has become second nature for me. I don't do this because I "should" or "need to" but because it feels good, but if a day passes without it, it's not a big deal (no, the yoga police won't come after you). Not practicing doesn't feel like some sort of departure or failure or lack of discipline any longer.

One of my favorite yoga teachers, Mark Whitwell, often talks about not practicing yoga obsessively. I think this is a good thing to keep in mind.  This can be a difficult idea to wrap our minds around. After all, we live in a culture where more is better. The harder and longer you work, the better it is and the more bragging rights you earn. Sit in a roomful of yogis, and it's common to have yoga ego emerge -- "I practice X days a week," "I have mastered X pose," "I have studied with X number of teachers," "I have gone to India X times," etc. This, of course, is not the nature of yoga.

Today was my first day practicing after taking 5 days off. I haven't done that in a while and I must admit that it felt good. Time off from practice, time to rest my body -- these are good things. And they made me appreciate my practice all the more when I came back to it. A little space is not a bad thing.

Naps, vacations, time off, retreats -- all are essential for recharging your mind and body. Same goes for your yoga practice. Taking time off the mat can actually help you integrate the changes yoga has wrought. If taking a few days away from your yoga practice feels a bit scary to you, how about a yoga step-down? What, you ask, is a yoga step-down? It's toning your regular practice down. Rather than your usual routine, try practicing a gentler style of yoga and/or limiting your practice to 10-20 minutes. Try it for a week and see how it feels when you return to your regular practice.

Here's a fine example of a step-down yoga practice. It's gentle and it's only a little over 10 minutes:

While it's great to be back into my practice, it's even better to be non-obsessive in my practice. I no longer define myself by my yoga practice. And taking a little time away from my practice is an invitation to grow, rather than a bad thing.

Take a break or step-down -- and enjoy the space.



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