Saturday, April 5, 2014

Practice: Explained

Blog posts entitled "Practice" will be dedicated to yoga.

Quite recently, the practice of yoga enjoyed its second introduction into my life.

I had taken quite some time off after having served as a devoted practitioner for close to a year. For many months, I entered the Hot Room at Moksha Yoga a minimum of 5 to 6 times per week.

After 11 months of dedicated practice, I felt that I had mastered the art of self-acceptance.

I was able to find joy in extending an unwilling limb, in expressing an ungraceful posture. I had learned to breathe deeply, to silently extend a prayer of gratitude, during a painful stretch.

My passion was stronger than ever before. What was my next step?

I recall a conversation with Graham. We had found ourselves mid-financial suffocation: I, an unemployed student; he, paying our entire rent. So generously respectful my practiced journey, he cautiously shared:
"I think you should sign-up for Yoga Teacher Training. We will find a way to make it work." 
After having committed to my practice for a long while (my one-year anniversary fast-approaching), I pondered the advice of my boyfriend. I was suddenly compelled to explore my deepest dreams. 

One Winter evening, following a 90-minute practice, I mustered up the courage to speak with an accomplished instructor at the studio. I held my breath. 
"I am prepared to sign-up for Yoga Teacher Training."
The instructor, kind-eyed, appeared to have witnessed a miscalculation. Deep love of Practice + Meditation = Teacher Training. Was my equation faulty? My solution premature?
"Am I making a mistake?"
She calmly recommended that I take some time to contemplate my decision. It would be a large investment (in money and in time). Setting goals and intentions breed accomplishments, but only when you are sure.
"There may come a time when you drift away from yoga."
She strongly suggested a yearlong pause to reflect, meditate, and discover the depth of my practice. In the interim, she assured that my devotion would be tested.

I did not return to my mat.

Shortly after our exchange, my membership expired. Her words, soft echoes, whispered in my ears. Their inaudible significance, however well-intentioned, compelled the decision that closely followed. I did not renew my membership. I resolved instead to explore a new form of exercise. Graham and I, after thoughtful contemplation (he, a lover of hockey; I, a yoga devotee), decided to join a gym.

I have been unfaithful to my mat for close to 2 years (with the exception of the occasional at-home practice). My loyalty has belonged to a fitness institution, one that I am not genuinely connected to, but one that I have eagerly submitted to.

For the duration of my infidelity, I have been unknowingly depleting my self-acceptance. Because of yoga, I had learned to accept and welcome even the least esteemable of features. I had uncovered affirmation in spite of weakness or deficiency. My practice had carved an opening, an opportunity to dig deeper, and I had discovered an aptitude for self-love. A liberation of my life.

And then it was lost (at least for a little while).

I cannot blame the gym for this. I similarly cannot fault a wandering heart that was my own, one that questioned its adherence to long-term spiritual practice.

My relationship with the gym has not been easy. If I were asked to explain it, I would write: I have acquired muscle. I have gained weight. I have witnessed a thriving endurance. I have criticized invisible progress. I have envied the shapes of others. I have never felt like I was enough.

How can my definition of a pastime, extending 24-months of my life, be marked only by progress and not by emotion? Something (everything) is missing.

This is not to say that I have discontinued my personal gym routine. I will continue to exercise in moderation (within a facility, outdoors, inside a Hot Room, etc.). After all, tipping the scale into sole Chaturanga Dandasana territory would not necessarily grant the "balance" I have been seeking.

But on this journey of surrender to imperfection, yoga is my guide.

Vinyasa, a form of yoga, allows for a revelation in each practice. All bodily forms are accepted as impermanent. No single posture can last forever. This is why we let go. During my practice, I discard all preconceived notions of beauty. I leave behind unattainable standards of health and fitness. I challenge a nagging nerve to compare myself to others (in- and outside the Hot Room).

Not long ago I attended two classes at Pure Yoga Ottawa. The first, quite physically intensive, focused on building strength, flexibility, and concentration. It gently pushed my exploration of an edge I had forgotten. The Hot Room cleansed my body (quite literally). By Final Shavasana, I felt completely detoxified... and exhausted.

The second practice, equally as intensive but mentally so, rejuvenated my system and reignited my passion. A close friend by my side, glowing from a similar flame, only further reinstated my joy. Ichih, a deeply inspired instructor, provided myself and my fellow practitioners (and you, if you will receive it) with a gift of information. We were given a choice: we could decide to "know" or we could opt to "learn," the latter granting us truth, happiness, and transformation. To know is to be educated; to learn is to take action. I felt the bubbling beginnings of an awakening as Ichih continued:
"Anything that is not shared dies with you." 
She proceeded to ask, in the midst of a gentle twist to our left, that we reach out and massage the shoulder of our neighbor (less than a mats length away). Did I simply know or had I learned to share?

A beautiful woman, laying to my right, reached out to me:
"I am a community person,"
I felt my shoulder grazed then squeezed, without hesitation or doubt. We smiled together; I reached out in the same instant to reciprocate the kneading.

Sharing this moment (a few breaths of an arm massage) created a simple joy and fostered a connection between two strangers. I have many friends who maintain that they are very private, and I will never judge them for their confidence. But I have become mindful and conscious of a deep-seated desire that exists within me to share.

I must share my journey towards self-love with the world. Why reserve or withhold the part of myself that is transforming the most?

As my second yoga practice came to a close, I felt dissimilar from only 60 minutes prior. I scanned my body for tension, exhaustion, or discomfort. I found none.

With each rise and fall of my abdomen, I became aware of my breath flowing freely. I searched my mind for lingering thoughts, fears, or concerns. I found none.

I began consciously flexing my fingers and toes, my mind remaining calm. I explored my heart for a sense of unworthiness, judgment, or insecurity. I found none.

Each one of us, taking a seated position, our hearts high, chanted Om in imperfect unison.

When I arrived at home, I ran to Graham, breathlessly sharing my inspiration. I may never be perfect, but by the Grace of God, I will share the person that I am.

I ate all of my favorite comfort foods for dinner. I included a decadent desert.

Balance for an evening found and a yearning to share with the world.

This is why I wish to practice.


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