If you start practicing yoga because you want to gain strength and flexibility, you can measure your results. One day you come into seated forward bend and you can reach a little further towards your toes -- ah, progress! What if you start practicing for subtler reasons -- to become more aware of your behavior patterns, to become less reactive and less stressed, to learn to be more present in the moment -- how can you be sure your practice is "working?"
Yogis Aren't Robots
In my last post, I mentioned having your yoga mettle tested. As I can see from the response to that post, our yoga mettle gets tested regularly -- even in yoga class! Challenges aren't going away any time soon -- there will always be rude people, difficult situations, and perceived injustices to deal with and navigate. Acknowledging the issue/person/situation as being annoying is a good first step. Being a yogi doesn't mean that you don't have feelings -- it's okay to get upset, frustrated, angry, etc. The test comes in how we react to and/or act upon these feelings.
My Yoga Report Card
Last week I was lucky enough to get a little insight into how I'm taking my yoga off the mat and into real life (or not). I had just boarded a homeward-bound train from NYC. The train was the first one to leave Penn Station for three hours, as there had been a series of delays, so it was crowded. I was seated in a row with three seats, listening to my iPod. Over the music I could hear a child laughing -- loudly. The loud laughing was interspersed with loud talking. It was coming from the row behind ours. It continued and while yes, I thought it was loud, I ignored it. When I noticed my annoyance by the volume, my thought was "Wow, it's a sad day when you get mad at a child for laughing." I also recognized the fact that I was not the only person on the train and therefore it's not all about me (despite my ego's assertion that it is) The young woman next to me whipped around, seemingly annoyed by the racket.
Now, to be fair, the train wasn't moving (it was late leaving yet again), it was slightly stuffy on the train (it was a hot day), and this young woman could have possibly been waiting in the station for this train for hours. Sure, that's enough to annoy anyone. I've been in the same situation in the past and have done the same thing -- shot the evil eye towards the alleged offender of my peace. I could feel the angry waves coming off the woman, who, after turning back around, seemed to deflate. She sighed resignedly and got back to texting on her phone. The laughing was replaced by the girl talking loudly to her parents (which was later replaced by the mother talking loudly on the phone to her father -- to wish him a happy Father's Day -- and passing the phone to her daughter who also spoke loudly to her grandfather).
The girl seated behind my row was learning disabled. The young woman didn't realize it until she turned around. If I had to guess, I'd say that the young woman was now feeling badly about shooting the family the evil eye on top of her already-existing frustration about being late and sitting in a packed train that still wasn't moving from the station.
One Day You're Fine and the Next...
A few days later, my desktop computer died (after upwards of 7 years of service). The hard drive up and fritzed out. I hadn't been using it (my laptop is my main computer), so it was a bit of a surprise when I went to use it and found an ominously final message stating that the hard drive had encountered some sort of catastrophic error.
Ironically, about 6 weeks prior I backed up the files on the desktop computer because I realized that when I got my laptop last year, I hadn't transferred all the files over, leaving some files without backup. Rather than being annoyed by the death of my desktop, I was grateful -- after all, it could have died before I backed up the files.
And let's face it -- it's a computer, not a person. It's not life or death (although I guess technically you could say it was a death because the computer is no longer working). I was reminded of how it's often the same with people -- one day they're feeling fine and the next, their hard drive is fried too. Sobering thought -- and one that had me feeling grateful that it was only my computer that died.
You Gotta Take the Bad with the Good
The next day I was hiking when I totally cracked myself up. Even though I applied bug spray, I was getting swarmed by anxious bugs who seemed happy to meet me on the trail. My next thought was, "This would be such a nice hike if it weren't for the bugs." Well if that's not a what the hell moment, then I don't know what is. It wouldn't be nature if it weren't for bugs, for heaven's sake! It's like life -- you gotta take the bad with the good. If there wasn't any bad, then we wouldn't know what good was (and be able to appreciate it). Yin and yang. I liked to read about the concept, so why not live it? I laughed at my silly thought and continued on with my hike, learning to live with the bugs.
Practice, Not Perfection
No, I'm not writing all this to make myself look like the perfect yogi. I am far from it. In the past, I would have been thinking some nasty thoughts about how those parents should have shushed their child and I would have freaked out upon seeing a hard drive error on my computer screen and I would have so annoyed by the bug issue that it would have eclipsed my joy around being out in nature. I'm not proud to say it -- but yes, I've been there, done that.
What these experiences did do, however, was remind me that I've made some improvements. Last week, my yoga worked. Next week -- who knows. What I know is this -- my yoga practice has given me space. It gives me the space to take a breath before responding. My yoga practice has also given me awareness. I notice when I'm feeling something and wanting to react a certain way. It gives me insight into my habitual patterns. Sometimes I can make the necessary changes, other times it's back to reaction mode (those are the days you'd never know that I've even stepped on a yoga mat).
Last time I wrote about yoga pet peeves. We all have them, just as we all have challenges to deal with. The question is -- how do we react? Has our yoga slowed us down, made us more aware of ourselves, given us perspective and ability to discern what's really important and what's not worth our negative energy? If so, pat yourself on the back. If not, have compassion and remember that it's yoga practice, not yoga perfect. And remember -- there's always a next time.
I'd love to hear how your yoga is "working" -- or not. Use that comment button and share!
And We Have a Winner...
I'd also like to congratulate Lindsay, who won the Zen Moon custom-designed t-shirt. Way to go Lindsay! Thanks for sharing your yoga indulgence.