Sometimes, I feel like ‘doing yoga’ (aka, practicing weird and challenging asana poses that an Indian guy conjured up a few hundred years ago or that a random yoga teacher put on YouTube yesterday) is like eating caramel ribbon brownies and homemade ice cream every day. It sounds like a good idea, until you do it every day. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love moving my body with my breath and finding a moment of complete flow with life, but sometimes I just want to sit down do nothing but watch robins hop around in my backyard. (Or more accurately, I want to sit with Russell Clive on the couch and watch The Office on Netflix.)
A few students reached out to me recently and asked for help structuring their yoga classes into their week and figuring out an attendance routine that works for them. (You can read my post here about how to stay accountable and make time for yoga.) Unfortunately, their requests started off with apologetic/delirious guilt-talk: They were feeling guilty and not like a ‘real yogi’ because they couldn’t practice the Ashtanga Primary Series every day because they had kids’ karate lessons to attend, low backs that felt pain after three consecutive days of practicing, animal shelter benefits to run, ailing parents to take care of, or generally had any semblance of a life outside of a yoga studio. (I think this life exists… I’m not sure, though. Actually, I was just at the airport and I noticed everyone wearing yoga pants except for the TSA agents. So maybe everyone does spend their entire day running between yoga classes. All signs point to yes.)
And then they had other questions about how to schedule their yoga practice: What if they just wanted to do something different??? What about a hard-core sweaty Vinyasa class? What about a deep stretch yin yoga class? What about a relaxing restorative yoga class? What about a yoga sleeping-laughing-toad catching- metal forging-class set to a Pearl Jam soundtrack? Choices: endless.
So my advice? Find something to do every single day that makes you HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY! (That’s three times, so you know it’s important.)
Tradition are great; they are evidence that some person, somewhere, at some time, made up a routine of doing something and found enlightenment. Or at least found their day to be easier.
Traditionally, yes, maybe the original Ashtanga Yogi’s practiced the Primary Series at 4:30 am 6 days a week and then took Saturdays off. Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t have 3 kids in elementary school, two fluffy dogs that never stopped shedding, an SUV that needed maintenance, Facebook accounts to keep updated, and a fulfilling career. Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t fly to work Monday through Thursday in Toledo and then jet back to KCMO for Friday Night Buck Night at the Royal’s with their grandkids. So maybe their tradition isn’t very useful to you, to your low back, or to your happiness quotient.
It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.
Remember, yoga isn’t exercise. Yoga is a study and a science of calming the mind waves in order to achieve freedom from our habits, our un-checked assumptions, and our fears. It’s a calculated system of ethical living, breathing, attention, concentration, moving and meditation that just makes your life happier. (There are a bajillion physical healing benefits to the poses as well: lowering blood pressure, healing nerve issues, strengthening bones and alleviating pain of all types, but that’s a different topic for a different day.) So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
Practice asana gently to avoid intentional suffering and do something that makes you feel happy. Yesterday, my yoga was an hour spent weeding my neighborhood organic garden plot. (Happy and dirty!) Today, it was one hour of Ashtanga Second Series with fifteen minutes of pranayama followed by a walk with my Russell Clive through the Kansas City Rose Garden. (Happy and sunkissed!) Tomorrow, it may be two hours of sweaty asana practice at Maya Yoga followed by mindfully cleaning my kitchen. (Happy and clean!) The next day it may be ten minutes of breath meditation before I teach followed by a road-trip to St. Louis during which I say hello to every cow we drive past and delight in the robust green of Midwest Spring. Maybe I’ll get out of the car and ‘yoga-stretch’ at Quick Trip, but whatever, the point is: Your Yoga can be ANYTHING. On the mat, off the mat, in the morning, in the evening, in your body or in your head. Anything that brings you into mindful, present-moment, wonderful awareness and draws you to a place of stillness where you practice compassion and self-care is YOGA.
So, please do this every day. You will feel happy, happy, happy!
(And, please, come to my classes. That too. You should definitely come to my classes. As often as you can. You’ll be happy, trust me.)