Ever since I got back from Hawaii, nobody recognizes me because I am tan, blond and ridiculously happy. I’ve been told I’m emanating some aura of joy. Nothing bothers me, I like everybody, I don’t worry about anything for more than two minutes. Basically, I’m the opposite of the person I was when I started this blog two years ago.
I attribute this to practicing yoga, on and off the mat. Yoga off the mat is an important part of the practice, especially in the western world where, let’s be honest, we start doing for one of three reasons: to get more flexible so we’re better at running, to get a yoga butt, or to stop wanting to destroy the universe. Number three is not always the first motivation for people, but most people find that after awhile, yoga changes their minds and lives in addition to their bodies.
Two of my favorite teachers have recently been on the Web on the subject of Yoga *Off* the mat. My amazingly gifted teacher trainer, Chrissy Carter, has just started a blog, H(om)e, focused on both yoga and the art of domesticity. Specifically, she suggests that Bhakti, a life of devotion, doesn’t mean giving up the material world. Rather, you can practice devotion by really committed to something worldly, like cooking.
And my first mentor, brilliant teacher and earthly warrior Elizabeth Rossa was featured in a blog post in Yoga City NYC. The blogger mentions that one of Elizabeth’s best traits, aside from her infinite wisdom and honest simplicity is the fact that she believes “our life is our practice.”
Elizabeth was my primary teacher and mentor during the first few months of my layoff, and she taught me to believe that. I think it was that attitude, and that universal practice, that enabled me to survive my layoff. But last week, while I was thinking about how happy I was, I realized that while my yoga may be flourishing off the mat, it’s not doing well on the mat. Not only am I struggling with a number of poses, but I’m beating myself up over it, and feeling inadequate and introverted whenever I go to practice.
At the same, I was starting to worry about how happy I was. Part of my happiness is legit: things that would have really upset me before don’t anymore. But at the same time, things are going really well right now. Who’s to say I won’t complete go nuts when things stop going well?
I’d been marinating on these subjects when I found myself in a headstand on Friday, cautiously trying to move my legs away from the way. “RB!” called the teacher from across the room. “Don’t let those lets sag!” I was totally humiliated and annoyed at myself. I spent the rest of the class feeling sort of lame when suddenly it hit me: It was time to bump up my practice.
Ever since the teacher training ended, I’ve only been taking level 1/2 classes. I’m justifying it on the basis that I need a break, but I think it’s because I want to be sure that I can do everything. While it’s true that yoga can be practiced off the mat, the work we do on the mat is what supports the yoga in our life. If I don’t challenge myself on the mat, I do run the risk of getting blind-sided the next time real life doesn’t go the way I planned it.
So I’m on day three of taking Level 2/3 classes, and I’m not doing that badly. I’m even getting excited about the stuff I can’t do, because it’s reminding of what it feels like to work towards something, and to work really hard for it. I like almost getting there, and feeling all the steps between the ground and full expansion.
The only time I ran into trouble was with my old friend handstand. I spent forever working at it, to no avail. After class, I whimpered to the teacher, “I’ve been practicing for 6 years and I still can’t do it. Does that mean I never will?”
She seemed almost taken aback. She shook her head at me and then looked me right in the eye. “Just keep kicking. It’s a life-long journey, Baby.”
On, and off, the mat….