Transitions may be the most important part of a yoga practice. At least if we are present to them.
Consider the transitions between the poses. Often we don’t think much about them, we are more focused on the posture itself. But pay attention, and there is more happening than we realize when we move from one pose to another. If we are not aware during that transition, it is a prime area where we could hurt our body with our mindlessness, our lack of awareness. Even if it is a fairly simple transition and the risk of injury is low, if we are not present to how we are moving from one thing to another, we could look at it as an opportunity missed. An opportunity to notice how we let go of one thing and move into the next.
How about the transition from your day into your practice? The transition from the activities of our day, our “doing,” to our practice on our mat of “being”. And conversely, the transition from the end of practice back into your day. How do we make that transition with care and attention? In all of these moments, there is the possibility to notice what is happening. Most of the time, however, we are unconscious as things are changing.
I ask my students a lot to pay attention to the transition from doing to being, because I think it is so important.
We live in the world of doing – in a culture where doing, accomplishing, fulfilling, and accumulating is highly valued. The world of being is not so extrinsically valued. Somewhere inside we know how important “being” is, we have all heard the adage that we are a human being not a human doing. But we don’t always know what that means or what it looks like.
We get to practice it right on our yoga mats each time we come to practice. There is the transition of our physical being – the moving from the activities of our day, into the yoga studio where you might feel a bit more relaxed even just walking in the door. You enter the space that is familiar and where you have had many moments of being present and relaxed, and there is an almost immediate response in the body – suddenly you take a deep breath without even thinking about it. You take off your shoes, you stow away your things – your bag, your cell phone, your coat – your belongings tied to the “doings” of life. Another transition. You roll out your mat and find your props needed, you set your space.
You lie down or sit on your mat. Perhaps there is some chatting with yoga friends, perhaps there is quiet, some time to move inward. And then your teacher comes to the front of the room, perhaps shares a few things, and then you begin. They ask you to come to your back or to a seat, and there is a transition in both your body and your mind. An alertness. Tuning in to what is below the surface of your skin. As you begin to look inward, there is awareness of sensations in your body, a noticing of thoughts and your state of mind, a busyness or a settled quality or even a buzzing inside. There is the feeling of the ground underneath you, the air on your skin, your clothing resting on your body. There is the tightness in your throat, the anxiety you didn’t notice before coming into stillness, or the tension in your shoulders, or some area of pain in your body. An aching in your knee. A sense of relief about getting to take some time for yourself. Perhaps a little nervousness if you are new to the practice or if it’s a new teacher to you and you don’t know what to expect. We have the opportunity to attune to all of this in those first few moments of practice.
Many times, as we begin to transition into our practice, our mind is busy planning our work day tomorrow, or trying to remember what we meant to pick up from the grocery store, or thinking about the conversation we had with a friend yesterday that bothered us a little bit, or fantasizing about how we are going to redecorate our living room. Or whatever. Still doing.
It’s easy to say pause the action. Put the pause button on and take a deep breath and become present, but what if that feels difficult mentally? How do we transition from doing to being in our mind?
We notice what is happening right here, right now. It might be the feeling of our breath. It might be the feeling of our feet on the ground, it might be paying attention to the feeling of our arms moving through space.
The way to shift from doing to being is to simply pay attention with a gentle, non-judging attitude. We see ourselves, we are observing ourselves, but we are also experiencing fully. It is different from sitting back and observing from a harsh and critical place, removed from ourselves and our experience. If we practice paying compassionate attention on our yoga mat or on our meditation cushion, it becomes a little easier to do that in our day to day life.
And when our mind wanders back into doing mode in our practice, we remind ourselves. We come back, we turn toward awareness. We become human-beings again by noticing what the experience of this moment is and bringing our whole selves to the moment with softness, with kindness, without judging ourselves or how this moment is showing up. And of course, it is a practice. We haven’t mastered that the first few times on our mat. We may find it still difficult at times after months or even years of practice. But we keep practicing, and we find more and more moments where we are present, awake and aware on our yoga mat, on our meditation cushion, and in our life.
In the same way, we can bring a kind attention to the transitions in our life.
This fall, I felt the transition of seasons has been a bit difficult. Kids were late back to school due to the teacher strike (I am grateful they reached an agreement that they were satisfied with), there has been some travel for me, and still, I find I am in that great transition of life called grief, having lost my father just a few months ago.
So I have been doing my best to bring myself back to being. To observe. To ground myself in my yoga and meditation practice, practicing with conscious awareness the transition from doing to being. And doing my best to carry that into my day. Breathing into the new routine of the day, kids at school, me back to work, taking time to pause and breathe in fall.
I invite us to consider – can we transition into this new season, this new phase of the year, this new phase of life with mindful, compassionate awareness? And what does that even look like?
Can we take moments to breathe in the fall air, linger and look at the richness of color of the changing leaves backed by the deep rich color of evergreens and the expansive blue of the October sky? Can we soften into the early morning fog, delight in the dewy spiderwebs on the bushes in the morning? When we notice ourselves caught in thinking, in the doing mode of the mind, can we tune in and observe? Can we find a state of kind presence, right here? Pausing in the action of life and taking some time to settle into the soft awareness that we are living a life, and how precious that is.
Nothing to do. Nothing to fix. Nothing to change. Can we take moments for being right here, right now?
At Source, we have several opportunities for you to settle into the transition of fall.
- Wonderful teacher Sona Desai Buchanan is offering a workshop this Saturday, Living Simply with the Seasons – Yoga and Self-Care for Fall. With Sona, you will explore yoga and Ayurvedic practices to bring balance and ease as the season changes.
- My next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Series begins next week. Join me for this 8 week series to discover your own resources to deal with stress. Newly, I am offering this series at a sliding scale to make it as accessible as possible. Some scholarship funds are also available, inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
- And we have a lovely upcoming Yin Yoga and Sound Bath with our own Shari Larsen and guest Sarah Corbishley. This will be a deeply restoring practice of turning inward.
May you be present with the transitions of the seasons and with your life.
Source Yoga Studio Director