Practicing Practice

…And, in a blink, three months went by without posting here. But it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything. I’ve been busy – too busy to write for fun, but not too busy to maintain my daily practice. Life is good, so I’ll just pick up where I left off…

Once my hip healed completely in late July, I dove into preparing for my teacher training. The physical work was basically what you’d expect. I built strength, garnered more flexibility, honed my alignment, and worked on deepening certain postures (especially deep twists and backbends).  Psychologically, my main, self-assigned challenge was figuring out how to become more comfortable in uncomfortable situations. My practice had evolved to a point where I’d acquired enough mental-muscle memories to keep me generally calm, mindful, and happy, but there were still moments, on and off mat, that caused me to flounder. I wanted to figure out: How could I learn to let my breath carry me through something that would normally cause me to tense up or give up too quickly?

The answer lies in the sutras, specifically (and most straightforwardly) 12 and 13. “Practice and non-reaction are required to still the patterning of consciousness. Practice is the sustained effort to rest in that stillness”.

Deep stuff, right? Patanjali is basically the Yoda of Yoga, so I think any effort to follow his teachings makes you an aspiring Jedi. And just like all the padawans discover in Star Wars, the mind-tricks take awhile to master.

So, I made it a bigger priority, practicing non-reaction when faced with heat, intensity, frustration, stress, and impatience – basically, anything that makes me antsy or temperamental. Non-reaction doesn’t mean that all these things happened unacknowledged. Believe me, they were acknowledged, but how I chose to receive them was calmer. I practiced focusing on my breath and gathering my thoughts for a moment before deciding whether or not to react. If I started feeling pulled by a strong emotion or desire, especially a potentially negative one, I asked myself questions to quickly self-assess before ceding control to said pull. Some introspective queries that came up often were: Can I breathe through this? Am I being as patient as possible? Do I understand the whole picture or am I focusing on a small detail? Is this something beyond my control? Physical asanas were extremely helpful in easing me through this work. If you can breathe through postures that feel intense, you’re essentially cultivating calm amidst chaos. That kind of slow evolution on the mat translates well into daily life.

Changing your own reflexive energy is hard work, though. Really hard. That said, like physical muscle memories, mental muscle memories get stronger when practiced each day. Over the last few months, I’ve grown more consistent in maintaining my focus and composure. As a result, I feel more at ease in my own skin and with my own happiness, which is a welcome, unexpected consequence of being deeply, conscientiously mindful. I’ve also started to truly understand that the mark of a diligent yoga practice isn’t the ability to do advanced postures, it’s the acceptance that we, as humans, are only as good as how we receive and react to what the world gives us, including ourselves. Whatever we feed with our energy will inevitably grow.

It’s a huge concept to embrace, but working toward it is a life’s work that epitomizes being your own boss. So much responsibility, so much freedom.

Namaste.

 

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