Sometimes I have so much to write about that I end up not knowing what to write. This is one of those weeks. And it has been a heck of a week.
Like most writers, I write in order to make sense of the world. I sometimes write without a clear path or conclusion, and somehow these letters and symbols that make sense in my mind arrive at an entirely new place by the time I’m done.
Teaching yoga is a lot like this. I plan classes in advance, but often get one or two sequences in and change my mind entirely. Unlike writing, my students co-create the yoga class with me, so if an adjective isn’t working — no matter how much I like it — it’s editing time.
Whether you’re a yoga teacher or student, you’ve probably had a moment when you’ve second guessed yourself on the mat. Should I attempt the pose? Is this practice right for me? When, if ever, will yoga come naturally?
And during weeks when life hits you hard emotionally, you don’t feel like moving physically. Yet editing your yoga practice during this time is the last thing your body — and mind — needs.
On days when Child’s Pose is your go-to; when sleeping seems preferable to waking; when you overeat because food is your comfort — this is when coming to the mat matters most.
This is also when coming to the mat is the most difficult.
First, just do it. Roll out your mat and hop on. Do five poses, just 10 minutes, or one sun salutation – anything to move your body and get out of your head.
Then, call in the mental cleanup crew. But how do you clear your junk bin mind when you’re not sure where to start?
Kill it with kindness
I’m reminded of something my boyfriend told me before I left the house one October morning:
“Be kind to yourself today, even if no one else is.”
The simplest of unkind acts, such as calling yourself stupid when you forget something important, can have far-reaching effects. Each thought adds up to a self-image that is vastly different from the one you deserve.
Sure, there will be days when you are too busy to take proper care of yourself.
There will be conversations that are difficult to have and leave you with an unsettling portrait of yourself.
There will be hecks of a week when you feel like the world in which you have carefully lived is deconstructing into a reality you don’t want to face (Hurricane Sandy, elections and full moons don’t help).
When those days and conversations and weeks and times come, choose to kill your self doubt with kindness. Rather than beat yourself up about the situation, talk back.
When I’m being particularly hard on myself, my boyfriend likes to say, “Hey, don’t say that about my girlfriend!” And he’s right, I really shouldn’t say bad things about his girlfriend.
You can do the same for you. Just turn it around, as in, “Hey, don’t talk about myself like that!”
It might seem silly, but it works. Leave the judging and scrutinizing and grading to others. By killing yourself with kindness, you’re assured that when things get tough – and they will – you’ll have your biggest fan in your corner.
What’s yours is mine
One of yoga’s strengths is to help us navigate our internal world more smoothly so that when our external world is shaken, we’re able to ride the wave rather than be swept out to sea.
But when most of us practice yoga, we’re not kind to ourselves. We always think we should be more flexible, more calm, more spiritually connected… whatever it is we crave, but perceive that we don’t have.
Do you really want these things or is jealousy speaking? I recently wrote on Do You Yoga:
“It’s too easy to fall into the ‘life is unfair’ trap. As a yogi, you know that the universe is conspiring at every moment to give you exactly what you need. If you really want to embody a quality you admire in others (flexibility, for example), make a commitment to practice yoga every day. If you find the idea cumbersome, then maybe that quality is not as important to you as you thought.” (read the full post)
It’s hard to sort through our junk bin minds to determine if we really want something or just think we want it. It’s easy to default to “life is unfair” and wonder why we weren’t given the qualities we so admire in others.
Even this glass-half-full yogi lived most of her life thinking this was the case.
Although I am much kinder to myself now, the waves of self doubt still surface. I’m tempted to drown in my own not-enoughness.
Then I get on my mat and yoga reminds me that you feel this way, too.
If nothing else, let that be reason enough to be kind.
Try this: Revolved Head to Knee Pose, Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana
This pose inspires a be-okay-with-where-you’re-at mental practice and can help clear mind junk through its feel good, side-body stretch. While advanced yogis may have their ears on their knee and their fingers in their toes, those of us working toward that alignment can choose a supported version that still opens the hamstrings and shoulders.
A papillon mimicking your arm movements is optional (see above photo!).
- Sit, legs wide on the mat, and bring your right foot snug to the inside of the left thigh.
- Place your right hand on your right hip. Inhale and lengthen through the spine, then exhale and slide your left arm to the inside of the left straightened leg, palm face up. If the full forearm doesn’t reach the ground, plant your left palm on the inside of the leg and use your forearm to press gently into the leg for leverage.
- Take another inhale and twist the torso to look over your anchored right bent knee. Exhale and press the left femur firmly into the mat and flex the left toes toward your face.
- Take another inhale and sweep the right arm up, reaching over your ear toward your toes, palm facing forward. Exhale and relax the right shoulder away from your ear.
- Press the left arm into the left leg to hold your twist, deepening your reach and twist on the exhales. Stay for 10 deep inhales and exhales before inhaling and lifting the torso back to seated, returning the arms to your sides. Repeat on the other side.