Returning to Practice

Dear Yogini: I’ve gotten into the practice of not practicing. How do I return? ~ Not Moving Enough

Dear Not Moving Enough: Good observation: Yoga is a practice that requires repetition. We never complete it. We never perfect it. We just practice. You are wise to realize that when you are not practicing asana, you are choosing a different practice. Is your body longing to return to yoga? Begin by listening to your body: the aches, the strains, and the desire to move.

Witness the voices that get in the way of your returning. Personally, my inner judge often stands in my way. I shame myself for not following through on an obligation or commitment and then I never begin the work. Yoga invites you to witness your mind in action. Acknowledge your mental obstacles, greet them, love them. And then lovingly ask them to be quiet. Proceed with compassion for your inner choir: judge, victim, jury, yogi... If we judge the judge, if we judge ourselves for shaming ourselves, we compound the problem. We become lost in the cycle of monkey mind. Breathe.

So begin easily. Add a few poses to your morning break. Stretch and take a deep breath. Try this simple desk Sun Salute:
Seated Tadasana: Sit up very straight, at the front of your chair and reach your arms toward the ceiling alongside your ears.
Seated Back Bend: gently arch your upper back and let your heart reach forward and upward. Turn your gaze upward but don’t strain your neck.
Seated forward bend: Sweep your arms to the side, fold at your hips, rest your belly on your thighs, your hands alongside your feet and let your head dangle.
Seated half Dog Pose: Place your hands, palms facing down, on your desk, extend your spine to lift your head between your arms, gazing down, and roll your chair backward to stretch the armpits, shoulders and upper spine.
Tadasana: Engage your abdominal muscles and extend your spine to return to a simple seated posture.
Seated Crescent Pose: drop the right hand toward the floor, arch the spine toward the right and reach the left arm alongside the head. Change sides.
Seated Twist: take the right hand to your chair back and the left hand to your right outer knee. Slowly twist the spine to the right. Change sides.
Repeat regularly. When ready, do the same sequence standing.

Invite yourself back to class. As your body’s desire to move resurfaces, follow that longing and look for a time in your week that you can make yoga a habit. Yoga is the practice of returning, again and again and again. Breathe.


Why Yoga?

You've doubtless heard various renderings of the onion analogy: the experience of life as an unpeeling of layers that reveal deeper and deeper truths of the self. The yogi's refer to these layers as koshas: the layers of being. The outermost layer of the onion is the physical body, in Sanscrit the Anna Maya Kosha. Our physical body and our physical discomfort may be the driving force that bring us to yoga. Personally, my physical distress brings me to my yoga mat every single day. After 18 years of practice my body yearns for for movement and Asana (yoga postures). I feel better when I practice.

As we continue to practice we experience deeper layers of the self: the Prana Maya Kosha (breath/energy body); the Mano Maya Kosha (mental and emotional body); and the Vijna Maya Kosha (wisdom body). Each layer takes us to a deeper awareness of our essential self. Until we finally find our deepest layer, our causal self: Ananda Maya Kosha, the bliss body.

Each kosha, each layer, is grounded in maya, the pain of life. As I struggle through my physical hurdles (originally a broken vertebral joint, currently a torn meniscus), my emotional hurdles (an alcoholic dysfunctional family of origin), my wisdom hurdles (an insatiable longing for meaning and purpose), I find the core of my being. It is my bliss body, grounded in this life experience, that sustains me and keeps me coming back to the work of living.

The yoga journey takes us inside, over and over again. Starting with the physical body, we learn to sit still. We learn to pay attention to ourselves. We learn to do one thing at a time. Somewhere in that journey we stumble upon our own bliss. We begin to find our calling and our purpose. We get up happy with our lives. Inevitably, living in maya, we stumble again, stand up, brush off our knees, willing and excited to begin the process all over again.