who do you practice for?

who do you practice yoga for?

“Since I started doing yoga a few months ago, I feel like a new person.  I want you to know that now I consciously try to be peaceful.  Even when I’m not doing yoga, I think about what you say in class and I try to make a conscious decision to be peaceful.  It’s not easy,” Erica told me one Monday after savasana “I think: what would I want my daughter to see?  Then I make a conscious effort to be peaceful.”  Erica’s daughter is 18 months old and adorable.  She wears twirly dresses and glitter shoes and her grin is obscured only by her big white pacifier.  Erica works in a high-stress environment with pre-schoolers who are in the foster care system.  ‘Peaceful’ would be the last word I would choose to describe her daily schedule.  But Erica is motivated by a deep wellspring of love, which only outlasts her wellspring of patience once in a while.

Erica does yoga for her daughter.  In a moment of silence at the end of every yoga class, Erica experiences a profound peace.  Her intention, or sankalpa, of peacefulness acts as a ‘call to awakening,’ in her daily experiences.  Without an intention, yoga poses are merely movements of the body.  But with an intention, it is the backdrop to an inner awakening: we often feel like a new person.

New people have new habits: new responses to frustrations (traffic?), new reactions to stressors (children? bosses?), new judgments on failures (ending a relationship?), new answers to questions (life’s meaning and vocation?), even new opinions on collective actions (communal conflict?).  Other people tend to notice these new responses and habits—transformation does not go unnoticed.  Penny says that she channels all her work frustration into a big, big, big, yoga breath: just when she’s about ready to yell at her (much younger and slightly annoying) co-workers, she instead, remembers her yoga.  And takes a big breath.  And calms down.  And responds like a leader and mentor should respond: with compassion.

Yoga simply makes you nicer.  And people notice.

Author and yoga teacher Max Strom writes:

“To choose to transform, heal, and grow is the dynamic and noble path that so few take but all of us admire.” – M. Strom, There is no App for Happiness

In other words, when you change your life by becoming happier, healthier and more whole, people notice.

So my question is: who are YOU practicing yoga for? 

Erica practices for her daughter: she wants her daughter to experience happiness, kindness and peacefulness in their household.  Penny practices for her team at work: she wants to mentor and inspire her co-workers and manage her team with integrity.

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Who do you practice yoga for?  Ask yourself this question every time you practice.  You breathe for yourself, yes.  You breathe to regain balance, kindness and truth in your life.  But you breathe for others too.  For your grandson, because you want to be able to sit on bleachers and watch his baseball game.  For your sister, because she annoys you so much you want to scream.  For your co-workers, because without yoga you might go insane. For your husband, because you cherish his love even when he leaves all the dirty dishes in the sink and forgets to take out the trash.  For your boss, because you wish her good health and good fortune, even if you find her work ethic absurd.  For your community, because you wish for safe neighborhoods.  For humanity, because you believe that peace is possible.  You are breathing for hundreds of generations before you and hundreds of generations after you.

Who do you practice for?

Think about it and let me know,

-lisa

 

intention.

intention.

I firmly believe that the most powerful way to deepen your yoga practice is to confidently set an intention before the class begins.  In the Ashtanga tradition, we set this intention while standing in samastitihi (equal attention pose) which grounds us in the space before we begin moving.  Standing tall, pressing equally into the four corners of our feet, we listen for the sound of our breath to experience present moment awareness.  Your intention, or sankalpa, can be set while you are seated, while you are lying down, or while you are parking your car on the street before even entering the studio.  It is important to set an intention for each practice that is deeper than ‘I’d like to tone my inner thighs, please,’ or ‘Today I will master handstands.’

The Buddha is attributed with saying, “Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.”  This is meant to remind us that our bodies are a physical manifestation of our thought energy.  Your practice is only as deep as your intention for it.  If your mind is busy planning your grocery shopping list (like mine often is on Thursday mornings before I head to Trader Joe’s that evening) then your practice will be superficial as well.  If all it took was a strong handstand to achieve enlightenment, then every college mascot would be living the high life.  My undergrad mascot happened to be played by a very close friend of mine, and I would absolutely attribute Zac as being (top 10) one of the funniest people I know, but perhaps his ability to walk down a flight of stairs on his hands (true story) didn’t ultimately lead him to a state of blissful Union.  In other words: our practice is intimately influenced by the quality of our thoughts. 

I ask students to choose one word that represents a quality they would like to cultivate in their lives.  Patience.  Kindness.  Healing.  Energy.  Strength.  This thought can be your intention.  After a few months of practicing with me, my friend Adelaide confided in me that her recent move back to the Midwest and recent job change in the competitive world of advertising had resulted in a sense of insecurity.  For several years she’d practiced yoga on and off, but now had re-committed to daily practice, and this had changed everything.  She sent me this e-mail:

“You have honestly made a difference in my life and helped me restore confidence and self-acceptance that I had let wane during recent tense life moments.

 I feel immensely better about myself and my surroundings since I’ve chosen to incorporate yoga and your teachings into the flow of how I live.”

 The movement of your practice is not what is special: what is special is your intention behind the movement.  Yoga designed to develop faith, grace, and reconciliation with your own body.  Yoga is designed to heal. 

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Set an intention at the beginning of every class.  Every practice.  Every time.  It may be helpful to repeat a personal script that firmly sets an intention.  You can write your own, or you can just use mine.  I think it works pretty well.  (I mean, I’m not enlightened yet, but I’m working on it!)

“With my breath, I set my intention for this practice.  I renew my commitment to practice with integrity and with passion.

With my breath, I set aside this time for me.  Everything that happened before this practice and everything that will happen after this practice can wait outside.  I dedicate this time to healing myself so that I can bring healing and hope to my community. 

May I breathe for myself and also for my neighbors.  May I be a vessel of Divine Love and Grace.  May this practice be a blessing of health, happiness, and wholeness.”

 

Happy practicing,  with love,

-lisa