Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lessons From a Teacher Who Wasn't There

My favorite yoga teacher was not there today. Strangely enough, it was in her absence that two of her important lessons really hit home with me.

The first is quality. She often reminds us to strive for the highest possible quality in our practice. That extends to everything -- not just the poses, but how neatly our blankets are folded, and how straight our mats are. At first I thought she was just anal, but I came to realize the truth in that lesson: we are entitled to the best from ourselves. Better to do one perfect downward dog and delight in the breath flowing through our bodies than to grunt, heave, and spaz our way through a thousand vinyasas.

The second is humility. She doesn't care if you've been practicing for 30 years and can balance your entire body on your pinkie finger. We're not there to get it done, or to look great, we're there to pay attention to our bodies and what they may be telling us at that particular moment. Sometimes the poses flow like water. Sometimes even child's pose is a struggle. The important thing is knowing which state you're in, and honoring it.

With humility comes playfulness. If you don't give a shit whether you can actually wrap your hands through your legs and around your back, and don't mind if you look like a complete moron trying, you can have a lot of fun with it, and you're more likely to actually benefit yourself because you're focused on the process, not the result.

It occurred to me today that these are great lessons for yoga and for life, especially in the context of our difficult path to parenthood.

The second lesson is the more easily applicable in my mind. This is a tough journey, and the results do not depend in any way on effort or merit. I have no control. My body may or may not perform the way I want it to. Emotionally, as well, some days are a struggle, while others flow by more easily. Approaching this journey with humility is my only honest option. And I hope that with that humility, I can find some joy, some little bits of playfulness.

Where does the first lesson, quality, fit in? That one's a bit more subtle. For me, it means that surrounding myself with quality -- good, nutritious food, exercise, enough sleep, time for myself, honesty with my family -- is not a chore, it's what I need and deserve. If I focus on quality, maybe I can simplify. If I focus on what's best and most true about this experience, perhaps I can set aside the more petty fears and preoccupations that make the journey more difficult.

Om shanti shanti shanti.

May all creatures know peace in the coming year and always.

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