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Do you still practice?

Normally when I make a new acquaintance, and we realize we both have yoga in common, and I share that I am a teacher of the practice but that I'm not currently teaching, somewhere along the line the question about my own personal practice comes up. It's such a hard question for me to answer, because how I am currently practicing my yoga, and what most westerners associate with the practice of yoga, are really quite different.

Do I set aside time everyday to practice a series of physical postures that is the vision of western yoga? No.

Do I have a dedicated meditation practice? No.

Do I still practice yoga almost every single day? Yes.

I was drawn to yoga all those years ago, 17ish to be exact, because of the physicality of the practice. I would say a good majority of yoga practitioners in the western world are drawn to yoga because of the physical/fitness component asana practice offers. I was drawn to yoga at a time when my body needed more care than I was giving it. I was fit, running several times a week on top of teaching several aerobics classes a week. I was strong (I thought) having started lifting heavier on a regular basis with the guys I worked with at the gym who challenged me to give up the normal low weight, high reps lifting to which I was accustom. But my body, my body was oh so angry with me. I had what was most likely compartment syndrome in my lower legs. My lower back was constantly achy and angry. And, as I would find out very quickly when I tackled my first yoga class, my body was very imbalanced and not near as strong, in a connected functional way, as I thought! The fact that my first yoga experience was so physically hard for me at a time when I felt so physcially fit,  more likely than not was a big reason why I tried it again, and again, and again. If it would have been easy, I don't know that my competitive, fitness mind would have given it a second thought. That's just where my mind was in those days. In my 20s. Before kids. Before 40.

While they physical challenge of the practice is what kept me revisiting my mat through those first few years, with time, and experience, and life changes, and age, my idea of what it meant to practice yoga slowly shifted to be as multilayered as the practice itself. I learned that maintaining a go-hard, do-more, push-harder mentality could be just as dangerous when practicing yoga as it had been in my other fitness pursuits. I will never forget the sound and sensation of injuring my hamstring when I tried to get just a little bit deeper into a forward fold during class on the last day of a full weekend of teacher training, or the frustration that went on for months afterward as I rehabbed my injury while still trying to maintain a teaching schedule. I learned that pregnancy changes even the most fit of bodies in ways one could never imagine, and that while one's body is never really the same after as it was before, a different strength and appreciation of one's body also comes with the experience of motherhood. I learned that no matter how hard you try to beat your body into your ideal picture of "perfect" physical form, if you don't address the inner demons driving you to train towards that goal at all costs, your body is never going to be good enough. Or even just enough.

Over the past 17 years my experiences related to yoga have been a HUGE part of facing some of my inner demons related to my body. Yes, it has given me a way to physically train my body, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual work that has happened along my journey has added value to my life beyond words.

Do I miss regular hours spent on my mat sweating? YES!

Could I work a little harder to make time for more regular asana practice? Probably.

Am I gonna mentally beat myself up for not having a dedicated physical practice routine? NO.

I have no interest in rekindling so many of the personal demons I have worked so hard through the years to quiet when it comes to my relationship with my physical body, and beating myself up over my lack of dedicated mat time would do just that. What I am focusing on is how my mental yoga practice spills over into relationship and interactions I have with others. With my family and friends. With the kids I serve at school. And, as always, with myself. As someone who has always been quick judge and somewhat short tempered, of both myself and others, strengthening my mental patience has been one of the biggest gifts yoga has given me. I have to constantly practice slowing down to thoughtfully respond rather than instinctually react, but the work allows me to be more of the kind, warm, and welcoming personality that I wish to be in the world. As with a physical practice, there are some days my mental practice flows easy. There are also days that I struggle, sometimes to the point of tears. But it is work I have committed to for a better life, and as a contributor to a better world, and I am in it for the long haul...dedicated mat time or no.



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