Practice for the life you want.
I think a lot about what makes yoga different from other forms of physical fitness. My gym routines, daily dog walks and hiking also incorporate mind, body & breath and have tremendous benefits to my overall life & health. A well-timed walk can change my whole perspective.
So how is yoga different? Yoga is a practice. And it’s not practicing for more yoga. Today’s yoga practice isn’t about tomorrow’s time on the mat. It’s about everything I do, because more than whether I bring my nose to my shins any time soon, more than whether I can clasp my hands behind my back, my time on the mat is about the present moment.
And that’s why yoga is different: while I can be present-moment in any or all of my activities, every part of yoga has as its aim this paradoxical state of being, which is itself beyond means & end thinking. The present moment is both every moment – and so different across time and people – and it is one moment, so it is the stable core of our being to which we can always return.
This is the paradox of eternity & the infinite: it is not a moment repeated forever, or a series of discrete moments following one another without end. It is a way of being from which we can see time. It is the way of being which allows us to take us a stand, or remain above the fray. And while walking and lifting and hiking bring me joy, connect me to my breath and occasionally bring me into the flow, Yoga is all about this. Yoga is preparation for meditation, which is to say it is a meditation on meditation from a beginners point of view – the very point of view to which most meditators are trying to return.
Yoga is a practice, and as such has profound consequences off the mat – not just on my ability to sustain a heart rate or walk a set of stairs, or even let a feeling go. My time on the mat is where I explore and create the structure of my life. I investigate my mind while I hold poses, feel emotions, strive for goals. The poses, emotions and goals are but tools for the point of the practice which supercedes them all.
So what are you building and cultivating with your time on the mat? Where do you practice? Do you practice in a place & manner that reflects the life you are crafting? Are you fitting practice in or intentionally carving out the minutes for your mat time? 5 minutes on purpose without stealing from your other priorities is better than an hour and a half stolen from your sleep or other needs.
Knowing which is which takes a great deal of compassion and care in watching your own mind. Your mind is not only your thoughts but your emotions and what you might call your “almost thoughts”… the ones that flit beneath the radar. And of course this takes – you guessed it – practice: mat time.
So consider where & how you practice and the kind of relation with your mind that it cultivates. Plant the seeds of your best life on your mat, nurture them with your presence and a little bit of sweat and maybe even tears. And watch your mat – and your practice – grow into your best life.