The Secret to a Great Practice

I woke up Thursday morning feeling sad and afraid. As I got ready for practice, all I could think about was the litter of street pups living in the gutter a few blocks over. Not to mention, the mother’s gentle, solemn eyes haunted me. I just couldn’t stop seeing her.

Meghan and I walked to the Shala in unusual silence as if it were a barrier that would hold back the tears. Only the barrier broke anyway …

Thus a rush of tears ended up flowing through my sun salutations and into the standing series. But by the time I got to the floor, a strong and steady breath had all but taken over. In fact, I felt this determination come over me like a force I’d not felt in a long, long time. It carried me through jump backs I’d typically take in steps and powerfully moved me through practice, fully present and with a singular focus: Do This For Them.

Sharath came over to do my backbends and that’s when it really dawned on me – I didn’t care. Like not that I didn’t care about Sharath, but I didn’t care about my practice AT ALL. I wasn’t there practicing to have a good practice. It actually never even occurred to me to judge one way or the other. I was there simply trying to muster the strength and the will to help me leave my mat and do something else – something I care very much about.

Now don’t get me wrong, I care a lot about practice, including what I practice and the way I practice. Sometimes a little too much, actually. But I don’t want to show up so I can have a good practice, I want to show up so I can practice being good. Good for me, good for my family, and good for those puppies.

It doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes the small me gets in the way creating stories of how I can’t or why I didn’t, pitting yesterday against today in a competitive cycle of things that don’t matter. Jump backs don’t matter. What pose you’re on doesn’t matter. Catching doesn’t matter. Getting authorized or invited to led second does not matter. But giving my best DOES matter, trusting a process, matters – and being committed, staying open, and keeping focused all matter a lot.

Actually, if you ask me what I’m working on in my own practice, I’ll tell you straight up: I’m working on giving in instead of giving up. All the time. And my morning practice is just a concentrated version of what really ends up being an all-day affair. 

But if you’re looking for particulars like poses or series, then I’m already bored.

Because you want to know what’s really hard right now for me? Not feeling defeated by the many litters of puppies I walk by on the streets or even by the eight I’ve chosen to help. It’s a real challenge for me to stay steadfast and committed in doing what little I can – with no guarantee of success. Now that’s a REAL struggle!

This month, I’ve felt particularly helpless … my father went into the hospital, my husband’s back went out, and a delusional tyrant took over my country. For a few weeks, I wondered what the heck I was doing here, doing in practice, when there are so many REAL issues I should be tackling and people I should be helping. But Thursday, I remembered why. So when I come to my mat, I practice being the kind of person who can remain steady and available for those I love and the issues that matter. I practice being focused on what’s important and learning how to tell the difference. I am practicing how to give my best and be of service in the long run, not just for a day or a morning.

I’m really just trying to practice being the kind of person who knows she can’t do it all/fix it all – and isn’t even supposed to – but is ready to do what she can, when and where she can. That’s it and that’s a lot.

Here’s the thing –

If you practice yoga to get better at practicing asana, you will quit.

You will. Because asana practice doesn’t always feel great, it doesn’t  always feel strong, and you won’t always be recognized or even encouraged. Sure, you might start out needing that kind of validation and I get that. But if that’s where you stay, then that’s where you’ll stop.

Aliya Weise once said to me: The mat is so small but life is so big. So you want to have a REALLY great practice? Then practice for a reason bigger than you.

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