Yoga is Not a Checkbox Item

to-do-listI love lists. Really, I do. I have at least 8 things to say about how much I love lists, but I’ll try to keep it a little more brief than that.

Lists make me feel like I’m organized, even when I’m not. Lists break up what can feel like an unconquerable mass of tasks into reasonable parts that I can cope with. Lists help me allocate my time. Lists help me prioritize. Lists give me a visual sense of where I am in a day/week/month/job. Lists give me a sense of accomplishment when I can check items off.

Really, the only thing I don’t like about lists most of the time is that I haven’t figured out how to effectively use my iDevices voice recognition features to make and manage lists (maybe I need an app for that – got one?).

I’m also very goal oriented. I like to have clear goals and I like to meet them.

Sometimes, in my yoga life, these two things combine in a way that is not ideal. I have a general goal for how often I would like to do yoga in a week. And, sometimes, I can slip into the mindset that I need to “check off” yoga on my list of things to do. I start to want to get the yoga done just so that I can mark it off the mental list.

That’s a problem, in many ways. It causes me to be overly focused on the “get it done” aspect of yoga, so that I forget to pay attention to the “every moment” part of it. It pushes me to take yoga classes even on days when my body might not be willing or able to do so safely. It causes me to become anxious or angry when I have to miss a class. These aren’t very yogic outcomes.

Ultimately, doing yoga is a process. It is a doing, and not a done. The practice is ongoing, and not constrained to a particular class or a particular pose. It requires and helps us facilitate mindfulness and awareness to every moment and what is happening in body and mind in those moments (even the moments where one or the other cannot manage an asana class). Doing yoga can happen on days when absolutely no asana is done, and it’s certainly possible to do some of the physical postures without ever doing yoga.

So, I know that yoga is not a check box item. I struggle with it sometimes, but I believe it. And that belief, on most days, is enough to keep it off the to-do list and just in the to be.

Loosing My Mind

We have a little joke in my house.  Well, it’s not exactly a joke, because I’m usually pretty annoyed when I say it, but it has a joke history.  You know how people tend to select the wrong word when there are two words that are spelled similarly (like “then” and “than,”  “to” and “too”)?  One of those mistakes, that I see often online, is loose instead of lose.  “I hope I start loosing weight soon on this diet.”  So, when I get really stressed out at home, I tend to announce, “If ____ doesn’t stop soon, I will LOOSE my mind!”

The funny thing about that, I reflected tonight, is that my mind could use a little bit of loosening.  In fact, getting my mind to have more flexibility and not be quite so tightly battened down is a big part of why I do yoga.  I have a natural (?) tendency to be a little – or a whole lot, depending on who you ask – type A, to be very much in my head and not so much in the moment, to worry and obsess over self-presentation and performance.  I have a pretty tight mind.  And those announcements tend to come at exactly the moments when I’ve been short on yoga classes, often due to family or work responsibilities ramping up.  When I get a chance to get back in the yoga swing, my mind releases, unclamps, loosens, and I feel so much better.

Maybe it’s a new slogan?  Yoga – You’ll Loose Your Mind

The Self Unpredictable

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have a little competitive streak.  Well, I’m not sure it’s competition exactly, because it would be ok with me if everyone was the best at everything.  I just want to be really good at anything I do.  Since I’ve also grown up in a culture that believes in a consistent “self” at the center of being (even though I’ve been teaching about the absence of this center for 20+ years now), this has led me to reject – wholesale – activities that I’m not “good at,” in an assumption that I will never be so.  Sports is (are?) an example.

In school, I was really awful at sports, with the exception of individual things like archery and bowling.  Anything that involved speed or hand/eye coordination was a big no.  I always felt conspicuous and things like picking teams made me want to fade into the floor.  After high school was over, I tucked sports into the “things I don’t do” category.  The only exceptions made where for individual activities that I felt like I had a shot at doing well in.  I biked, because what I lacked in speed I could make up in determination.  I lifted, because my upper body isn’t so strong, but my leg muscles like  nothing better than to bulk up into huge knots (little did I know that this would be to my later sadness in yoga).  I avoided any sort of team sport or casual sport like it was a plague.  This was “me.”

And then yoga came along.  At first, it was about feeling better from RA pain.  And then it was about seeing what my body could do.  And then it was about calm and peace.  And eventually, it was about yoga.  I’m not saying that there aren’t still days when I get annoyed at myself because I can’t do a pose or feel envious that someone else can, but I don’t see those things as “me.”  I just see them as the moment.  Yoga does that for me, because on any one day, I’m a different me than I was the day before in a class, and I’ll be different again tomorrow.  My mind has a different texture, a different process, a different sense of the world.  In one class, I find it easy to be on my mat (mentally) and keep my focus in the present.  In the next session, I can’t stop worrying about work, or the curtains I’m sewing for the family room.  My breath will happily stay in ujjayi for a whole practice on Wednesday, and then on Friday I cannot maintain it for 2 breaths in a row.  My body can do a pose one day and then refuse to do it completely the next day (in fact, last Friday, it did a move 3 times in one hour, and then the following hour couldn’t even approach it).  It will shock me completely by going into a complicated arm balance on one side, and then refuse to even consider vasishtasana on the other side.

I guess if I was really intent on maintaining the sense of a core self, this would bother me.  But, I’m not.  I’ve rejected (rationally, at least) that idea for many years, so this simply reaffirms for me an idea that the self is not at the center (though I do believe that the Self – in the sense of the connection to the greater or divine – is there, but that isn’t about personality traits or abilities).  And it’s so freeing.  I don’t know what my body, mind, breath will be like tomorrow, or even in 10 minutes – not much sense fretting about it.  There is a certain peace in that.  The world of possibility is there.  There is a certain excitement in that.

I love yoga. Have I mentioned that?