Staring at your empty yoga mat right before the teacher talks you into motion is a sacred time.
This is the moment of your arrival, with everything you’ve brought today and some deeply hidden things you will rediscover later like a coin in a couch cushion. It’s the moment when you can sense whether you want to be there or not.
And then you move, and it’s a good start. You feel the creaks in your muscles and bones, but they’re not enough to stall your progress. Your shoulders feel solid and your breath is fluid.
Somewhere in the middle, maybe 20 or 30 minutes in, you start watching the time. You sneak furtive glances to see how everyone else is doing so that you can either feel better or worse. And the teacher is telling you that you can do it, but this isn’t about willpower anymore. This is about fighting exhaustion.
Two things happen next: 1. You fight exhaustion, or 2. You work with it. You either muscle through with ragged breath and a head clouded by “Is it over yet?” or you yield to your body’s tired legs and drop your knees on the next Anjaneyasana.
No matter which you choose, this is as good a time as any to recall the beginning. You had a reason for being here when you were staring at your unrolled yoga mat.
My guess is it probably wasn’t to show off your asanas or compare yourself to others.
My guess is that it was to come to peace with yourself.
What happens next
It often feels like we’ll never arrive on our mats. Even when we finally nail that pose or experience a bliss moment in meditation.
But the truth is we’re always arriving. Every time you stare at that unrolled, empty yoga mat you’re setting the stage for what will happen next.
You can set yourself up for disappointment.
You can also set yourself up for peace.
Progress in a yoga class mirrors the process in our minds off the mat, no matter what the trigger.
- First, the acknowledgement.
- Second, the leaning in.
- Third, the wanting out.
- Fourth, the giving up… or the giving in.
Your off-mat attitude
It’s one thing to practice on our yoga mats and think we’ve conquered and released our triggers. Many of our triggers aren’t present because they’re reactions to others’ actions.
But the on-mat process is essential for shifting your off-mat attitude.
Rather than building a tolerance, you’re cultivating resilience. So the next time you’re 30 minutes in, you become patient with the last 30 minutes. The next time someone tells you you can’t, you quietly smile because you know you can.
Even if external triggers never completely cease, coming to peace with your relationship to them can.
Yoga is your path.
Try it: Low Lunge, Anjaneyasana
Sometimes, you just need to take a knee. No matter what the teacher says. No matter what the rest of the class is doing. Dropping your knee to the mat is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you care about yourself.
Note: You can practice this pose with your arms reaching straight up and not behind you, or go for the reach to lift your heart up and to take selfies with your dog.
- From tabletop position with toes curled under, step your right foot forward to your right hand. Maintain knee above ankle. Inch your left toes and knee back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the inner legs. Release your left toes.
- Anchor your front foot into the mat. Inhale and sweep your arms up overhead, lifting through the abdominals to bring your torso up. If comfortable, bring your palms together to touch and extend through the fingertips. Otherwise, keep the palms facing one another but not touching.
- Exhale and descend your tailbone done to the ground, drawing your navel in toward the spine. Soften the tops of the shoulders down to the hips. Breathe smoothly in and out for six deep breaths, sending the breath to open the tightness in your hips or legs.
- Exhale and drop your fingertips back to the mat. Curl the back toes under and sweep the right leg back into Downward Facing Dog. Pedal out your knees and observe the difference in your legs.
- Sweep the left leg forward into a lunge, or drop to your knees and step your left foot forward to lunge on the left side. Repeat.