I used to think I wasn’t “doing yoga” right if I didn’t wake up with the sun and practice asana for an hour, followed by another hour of meditation, engaged in ayurvedic cleansing practices before my shower, and then topped it all off with a super-food smoothie, complete with plant-based protein. Trying to pull this off every morning with a full time job, a child to care for, relationships, households, and other obligations is next to impossible. Does that mean I’m not a yogi?
When the practices intended to restore balance in your life end up keeping you from the very thing you were striving for, then I suppose these practices stop being practices of self-care and start being something you just feel guilty about not doing enough of, and that’s not serving anyone in that way. How the practice was intended thousands of years ago may not be relevant, practical, or even obtainable in our lives today. Most of us are unable to abandon our responsibilities to join a monastery or devote ourselves to our spiritual practice for hours a day. We are lucky if we can find five minutes. Does this mean we can’t be yogis?
I think of yoga as a practice of being, and the practice is in living life itself. Asana and meditation are ways of being in and of themselves. They are more about integration and less about doing. It isn’t something you can think about, it’s something you have to experience. It’s like the difference between reading about what it’s like to go to a beach and actually going to it, really being there. Thinking about going just isn’t the same.
Yoga is equilibrium; it is cultivating a union between steadiness and ease. It is a living process: listening to ourselves and responding, acknowledging where we are at, accepting wherever this is, and really being with it. Only when we know where we are can we decide where to go. Determining where this is is the journey-- however, the destination is wherever we already are: in the present moment.
This involves a certain level of awareness, a way of listening and looking inward. Once we are able to get our mental chatter out of the way, we can clear the way for self-realization, or a way of gaining insight into our own experience that we might not have been able to notice before. It can help us gain a new perspective which can help us move forward in some way. Yoga includes breathing practices, physical postures, meditation, and other practices. These practices can help us slow down reactive processes in our minds, allowing us to be able to respond more skillfully. It helps us see how our own behaviors or actions might be more or less supportive in one way or another. The practice can help us develop more patience and understanding in how we engage with ourselves and others in the world.
The more time we can spend engaging in these practices, the more skilled we become with our interactions. However, the practice is also a practice of restoring balance. Some days this might mean an hour of asana practice and others it might mean five minutes of meditation. It might mean we need to take a nap or it might mean we can be super productive with the extra energy we have that day. It might mean that we need to spend some time alone, or it might mean we need to spend some time with other people. It is different from day to day, month to month, and year to year.
Yoga is a practice, not a prescription. There isn’t a certain dosage or method that works for everyone. Knowing how much or how little we need of a certain practice is part of the practice, as is dedicating the time for it and showing up, even when we don’t feel like it. Just as in any physical posture, or asana practice, we explore in our own bodies where we can cultivate both steadiness and ease: we extend that same practice of exploration in our daily lives. If we are pushing too much in a physical posture, we aren’t practicing yoga. If we are trying to do too much in our daily lives, we aren’t practicing yoga.
Yoga is a transformational practice. Arriving, acknowledging, and listening. Responding, shifting, and settling. Coming back again and again. Creating steadiness, and finding ease.