A very wise teacher once told me that our yoga practice changes to fit our life, we don’t change to fit our yoga practice. Where we are in life, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – our practice evolves to meet us. It’s a practice in flexibility, in more than just the literal sense. It can serve us unconditionally, if we allow it to morph and remain open to its endless possibilities.
I am in the last two weeks of a twin pregnancy, and am of course experiencing SO many different things. A slowing down of my body, a speeding up of my mind (working every day on that), a multitude of emotions, moments of preparation and moments of pure presence. Our family will grow by two beings, but so much more than that will grow. Laundry piles, food bills, tiredness… okay, okay, I kid (or do I?)… hearts will grow, love will grow, relationships will grow, hugs and kisses will multiply, and we will see the true limitless capacity of the human heart in all its tender and understanding beauty.
But let’s quickly touch on one of those things, “a slowing down of my body.” I’m carrying around 40+ extra pounds, I can’t touch my toes, (heck I can’t even SEE my toes), I get winded lying down, or walking, I pee 100 times per day and 200 times per night, my lower back hurts on and off, I have heartburn, my ankles swell up whenever I stand for more than 5 minutes, I’m always hot, and constantly tired. (Hey, just being REAL!) But I’m still practicing yoga.
No, I am not practicing hot yoga or vigorous vinyasa flow or even very many standing poses these days. Balance is questionable. I only sweat because everything makes me sweat. Each day my body craves something different, but the overarching theme is simplicity and slowness. Some days my whole practice is spent sitting on the floor and doing various circular movements that feel right, or simply sitting. The actual poses don’t even matter (although I’ll share some later)… its just getting my butt (literally) on the mat, taking some time for quiet with myself, breathing, and exploring how I feel that day, body, mind, & soul. I spend at least five minutes in meditation (it’s not as scary as it sounds, if I call it quiet sitting), and once I’ve allowed things to settle, I set an intention for my day. And that’s it. Nothing fancy about it, no expectation, no pressure, no rules.
And no matter what the practice “looks” like, I still leave with that sense of inner calm and peace that we crave from our yoga practice.
This isn’t just for pregnancy. Sometimes we’re just tired. Some days our body feels heavy and uncooperative. Sometimes we feel sad, or stuck. Perhaps we have an injury that is healing. Maybe we are new to yoga and just arriving to our mats, and all we’ve seen is those fancy Instagram posts where yogis are upside down and sideways and balancing on their heads and that feels, well, a bit intimidating.
That’s the beauty of yoga. There is something for everyone. No matter our physical state, our energetic state, our emotional state – yoga is a practice that can serve us ALL.
When I first started doing yoga, I saw it as exercise. A way to strengthen and tone, burn calories, get ab muscles, sweat, and leave feeling like I had a workout. I avoided gentle or restorative classes because I didn’t think they were enough “work.” (Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of wonderful challenging classes out there and there is nothing wrong with lighting an inner fire and exploring the capacity of our physical form. BUT it’s worth noting that a good yoga teacher will guide you through a challenging class and have a much deeper underlying message to convey than how good of a workout you can get.)
So naturally, what stemmed from this attitude I carried around was an internal struggle. On those days that my body felt heavy, I felt tired, my energy was low, or I was experiencing physical pain… what did I do? I didn’t listen. I pushed through anyway. I worried more about how I, and my practice, looked than honoring myself or giving myself needed rest. I told myself that my internal feels were wrong. I often felt frustrated when my body didn’t cooperate like I thought it should. I would lose my breath on my mat but be proud of my sweat. I was striving and grasping at what I thought a “yogi” should be like. Which, funny enough, was the exact opposite of my perception.
I see now, where these ideas came from:
- The widespread popularity of yoga. On the one hand, YAY! Yoga for everyone! The more people who practice, the closer we will move towards world peace. But on the other hand, it’s now SO mainstream and so heavily marketed that the image of the yogi as a svelte, toned, tan, well-dressed white female has MANY people viewing the practice in the same way I did. (More on that later.)
2. This stemmed from FEAR. Fear of SLOWING DOWN.
I did end up injuring myself, with a torn hamstring attachment. Exactly how it sounds, a tear where my hamstring muscle attached to my bone. (Ouch.) As my teacher at that point offered, “Injuries are great teachers.” I was forced to slow down, to foster an internal listening, to modify and be patient – to avoid the extreme pain that was a result of my (egotistical) practice. I even started going to gentle and restorative classes. I am forever grateful to this injury. It was the first step on my journey to truly discovering the meaning of yoga.
So what is yoga, truly? Let’s start with what is NOT: all of the things previously mentioned. Following set routines, conforming to molds, pushing past unhealthy pain, worrying about appearances, only drinking water when the teacher says it’s okay…not yoga, not yoga, not yoga, not yoga, not yoga.
What is? Listening to our body. Honoring what it has to tell us. Exploring who we are, day to day, and not only respecting that, but being in awe of it. Getting on our mat daily, in any capacity, and allowing natural movements to unfold. Knowing that quietly sitting IS yoga practice, just as much as a flowing practice. Remaining curious and open. BREATHING. If we’re not breathing while we move, we’re not doing yoga. Celebrating our strength and lighting our inner fire during those times in life where that fits, but also embracing slowness when it feels right.
Yoga is for all seasons of life. Young, old, injured, pregnant, whether we’re able to touch our toes or not. It can be done on the ground, at our desk, in a chair, even while stuck in traffic in a car.
Take a few moments each morning to check in with yourself. How is your energy? What does your body feel like? What kinds of thoughts are running through your mind? Be okay with whatever you notice. Move forward from that place. Don’t avoid gentle classes. Try restorative yoga. Also try a challenging class. If need be, try out many different classes and styles of yoga until you find one that fits, and a teacher who respects each individual for who they are and where they are. If you experience sharp, burning, shooting pain that takes your breath away, listen to that and step back. Ask for help or modifications. Be in awe of what your body can do, feel it strengthen and powerfully support you, and then give it the necessary rest it craves. Drink water when you need. Take a few moments every day to do something quiet and nourishing.
And what can happen when we accept THIS definition of yoga? Many beautiful things. Understanding. Empathy. Wisdom. Attunement and delicate listening. Mindful living. Contentment. Celebration of our bodies. Respect of our self and others. Curiosity to learn more about the practice, and self-evolution. A healthy body. A strong body, but also an open body. The ability to breathe. Inner calm. Bliss.
Above all else, don’t get discouraged if you can’t touch your toes. I can’t right now. It’ll happen, or maybe it won’t. That’s okay. Our practice is here to serve us, FOR LIFE.
Want to dive deeper?
Practice! Yoga to Embrace Slowness
Reflect! Embracing Slowness worksheet. Print, or use as a journal prompt!