There is an attitude in the yoga community that I have some thoughts about. I see both sides of the attitude and felt as though I could share some insight. Cultivating a daily yoga practice is important, but not to the point of self-deprivation when getting on the mat doesn’t happen. I adore yoga and I stand behind a daily yoga practice until I hear yogis begin to bring themselves down for letting life happen. If you can’t make a practice happen one day, that doesn’t make you any less of a yogi. I personally believe that forcing yourself to practice when mentally you aren’t there can be damaging not just on the physical body, but the mental one too. If you get on the mat and make negative comments about your body or thoughts, then did you even practice? If you let your ego lead your practice does it even count? Asana, the physical practice, is only one portion of yoga. As yogis and humans, we must take time to really listen to our bodies, all of them. This isn’t an excuse to be lazy, it’s a push to go beyond the physical practice. There are other ways to practice. Here I provide a couple of alternatives to a physical practice, breaks are needed sometimes.
Vinyasa is often considered a moving meditation. At least that is the intention behind it. As you breathe with your movements you get into a rhythm that allows your brain to slow down. This can be done without the physical practice. We will discuss in detail the process of meditation in a later blog, but let’s at least touch on the basics. Meditation is the process of slowing your thoughts down. It is believed that meditation is the process of shutting your brain down, that isn’t quite right. Thoughts happen in meditation which is human and pretty much guaranteed. Meditation is the process of listening beyond your ego, that voice that is always telling you why you can’t do something. This voice will pop up as you begin your meditation. The way that I personally handle my ego in meditation is with this little phrase; “I acknowledge what you are trying to tell me, but I am going to set that aside for the next 20 minutes. I promise I will come back to it.” This gives my ego assurance that I will come back to my responsibilities, I am just taking a momentary break. To start a meditation, find a comfortable position. This does not need to be a seated posture with legs crossed (Sukhasana). You can be seated in a chair, on a pillow, your yoga mat, or even lying down or standing. Close your eyes or find a soft focus and focus on your breath. Breathe in and out through your nose, allowing your heart rate to steady. Keep still. Continue this as long as you feel you need to, that could be 15 minutes to an hour. Remember, as the thoughts arise, acknowledge them and set them aside.
If the act of being in your head alone is just not an option, not a problem! Take some time for you, whatever that means. One of my favorite activities that I do for me and me alone is finding a cozy spot with a cup of tea and a book. Getting lost in that moment for an hour or so is a great way to let go of my worries and recoup. Other ideas would be a long bath or shower, a walk in your favorite park, any form of creation (painting, writing, music). Treat yourself to an at home spa experience or have a small jam sesh with your guitar. Whatever makes your heart a little lighter and head a little clearer, do that.
Some days you just need to do nothing. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. Don’t force yourself onto your mat if what you really need is rest. If your body is feeling ill or fatigue call it a day and hit the sack early. There is nothing wrong with crawling into bed at 8 and catching up on sleep.
Again, I believe a daily physical practice is important, but it isn’t the end all be all. There are many reasons for yoga, one of them is getting to know yourself better. If you ignore your body and mind that is the same as ignoring a dear friend. We would never be out with our loved ones and ignore them when they say they need a break, so why do it to ourselves. When we keep the attitude of “I HAVE to get on my mat”, we open doors for negative self-talk and body image. We get frustrated, possibly even angry when our day doesn’t play out as expected. We add an extra thing to our to-do list, making the already never-ending list even longer. When we take that attitude into our yoga communities, we open the possibility of competition. Being proud of your streak accomplishment is one thing, letting your ego treat that number as if you are superior to any other yogi defeats the entire purpose. When we change the mindset from something we HAVE to do to something we would very much like to do, the attitude shifts. We begin to acknowledge ourselves as people again, not just yoga robots. You are more than the number of days you have done yoga. You deserve rest when you need. You are in control to decide if a daily yoga practice fits your needs or if it doesn’t. Let’s end the negative feelings of missing a day, shit happens, you aren’t alone in that. Do what you need to do. It may not mean much, but if you do that, I will be proud of you. I will stand by your decision. Allow this to be your permission slip to do what is best for you.