We don’t really say we “do” yoga, or “do” meditation. Instead, we say we practice yoga or meditation, or we have a yoga and meditation practice. I really like the distinction of practicing rather than doing. Where doing might be goal oriented – trying to get somewhere – when we practice something, we don’t have to be perfect. If you could say there is a goal to yoga or mediation, some state we are trying to achieve, it would not be anywhere you can get to by working hard and being perfect. In fact, the only way to get “there,” is to be here. In the fullness of this present moment.
In the yoga studio, we often have a lot of new students coming in in the first couple of months of the year. As we resolve to take better care of ourselves, to nurture our well-being in the newness of January, we make lots of well-meaning commitments. Going to the gym, eating better, taking more time to relax. It’s this time of year where many people find themselves committing to healthy practices.
But what has us stay committed to our practice once the freshness of the New Year fades? The folks I see week after week, month after month, and year after year have made their yoga a part of their weekly rhythm. Their yoga is a part of their lifestyle. Rather than the intense approach of coming to the yoga studio every day and then burning out in a few weeks, the students who make yoga and mindfulness practice a part of their life find 1 or 2 classes that are their “home” classes and commit to coming every week. They have made their yoga into a “practice,” rather than a goal or a doing.
And it seems to me, those students I see every week understand that they are coming not to perfect a kind of pose, or be able to do harder and harder postures, or do a more advanced class, but because of what their yoga practice helps them cultivate in themselves. Perhaps a greater vitality, a sense of calm, a connection to community, or a greater perspective in the difficulties that arise in life.
This practice is meant to be sustainable—something we can continue as we age, offering us invaluable gifts for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. I see students going through life – births, deaths, illnesses, having children or grandchildren, career changes, moves, entering retirement. And the students who have that steady, once or twice a week commitment to their practice, notice that this steadiness helps them as they are going through the inevitable changes and challenges of life.
At Source Yoga, although we are indeed a yoga studio, you could say we aren’t trying to sell yoga classes. Instead, we are in the business of cultivating practices – practices that improve the well-being in our lives, in our communities, and in our world. That might look like taking weekly yoga classes and feeling stronger and having greater balance and mobility. That might be cultivating self-care, kindness, and compassion as we take time for movement, meditation, and reflection each week. That might look like taking time on the mat to connect inwardly to balance out the busyness of our daily life. You know why your practice is important to you.
If you think about it, we have lots of practices that don’t improve our wellbeing. Most of our practices are unconscious. We cultivate them without even knowing that’s what we are doing. These are practices that come out of running on autopilot. Surfing the internet and then finding an hour has gone by, the glass of wine or four that help us unwind at the end of the day, watching an extra episode of something on Netflix when we should really be going to bed. We all have them. I am not judging any of that, I have my unconscious practices that don’t serve me too.
So the question to ask yourself might be: what is it that you do want to cultivate in your life? And what practices could support that?
My meditation is a practice I have cultivated over time, but it’s not really the meditation itself that is the thing I am interested in cultivating. It is what opens in me from having a steady meditation practice. It is the patience with my kids that has grown. It is the ability to sit in the unknown, with change and discomfort. It is the wisdom to listen to myself and the ability to see what is needed in the moment. It is the letting go of perfectionism and allowing myself to be human, messy, imperfect. The ability to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it. The truth is, I can’t say I have mastered any of those things, but I do my best to practice them, and do my best to forgive myself when I fall short of my commitment. Those are things that I am interested in cultivating, not a perfect meditation practice where my mind never wanders.
When we consider something a practice, it is important that we let go of trying to get it perfect. When we are trying to be perfect at something, there is very often self-judgment, self-criticism, striving, comparison. When we come to our yoga or meditation as a practice rather than trying to perfect something, there is space. Breath. Kindness. Holding ourselves in a nurturing manner. We all know that children learn best in that kind of environment, rather than a punitive one, and yet we beat ourselves up for our perceived shortcomings all the time. Perhaps we can offer ourselves the same as we would a child that we cared deeply for?
So, I will ask again – what are you interested in cultivating in yourself? And how might your commitment to your yoga or meditation practice support that? I would love it if you shared with me what you see for yourself. The other wonderful thing about a yoga and meditation practice, is that we don’t have to go it alone. We can let our community support us. We are all in this practice – not perfect – together.