(I had to write this piece for another purpose, but it also seemed to be an appropriate post.)
My yoga practice is my life. I don’t mean that in the sense that all I do is yoga, but rather, in the sense that I endeavour to bring my practice to every aspect and every moment of my life.
I see yoga as a practice focused on moving with mindfulness, cultivating awareness, and using this mindfulness and awareness to practice ahimsa, or non-harming, in thought, word and action. I like to think that practicing yoga is not as much about what you are doing, but more about how you are doing it. I often hear people criticizing the Westernizing of yoga, as new brands like AcroYoga and Anti-Gravity Yoga pop up and we label and classify them as we Westerners like to do. But, while I can identify with a concern for the integrity and authenticity of the yoga practice, I also think it is important to remember that yoga can be practiced anywhere, while doing anything.
Part of being a yoga practitioner (and especially part of being a yoga teacher) is finding the yoga in each moment – whether you are on the mat or stuck in traffic. Patanjali’s first yoga sutra can be translated as “now is the practice of yoga,” and with this sutra, he reminds us that the experience of yoga is in each moment, that yoga is about being in the present moment. A sense of being present in each moment can come about as we move through a gentle flow sequence on our mat, but it is often much more challenging to bring the presence of the practice to each moment off the mat. And, of course, off the mat is where we need the practice most.
My yoga mat (or meditation cushion) is where I practice and harness the skills to live yoga off the mat. When I hold pigeon for five-minutes, I learn to find comfort in discomfort. When I move through a challenging sequence of Warrior postures, I practice strength and persistence in the face of adversity. And, when I sit in the stillness of meditation, I learn to focus my thoughts and recognize that I don’t have to engage or identify with every thought that floats through my mind.
I return to the mat to practice every day because without this consistency, the lessons of the practice sometimes have a way of floating away, or falling out of sight, in life’s more challenging moments. But with consistent practice, I come to embody the spirit of yoga and become a teacher of yoga – whether I am standing in front of people on yoga mats, helping a friend through a difficult time, or grocery shopping. Because just as practicing yoga is less about what you are doing, teaching yoga is less about what you are teaching and more about how you are teaching it.