The most profound lesson I’m learning from yoga is this: we need to meet ourselves where we are. In yoga we work on building strength, flexibility and balance. We build these by working within our limits, in the moment.
Bringing awareness to the breath brings us into the moment. Then, acceptance of where we are at in the moment, is the most important aspect of yoga practice.
It’s called a practice because we aren’t supposed to be perfect. If you can do every pose perfectly, you won’t get as much out of yoga, because a big part of the experience is acceptance.
Chances are though, even if you perfect a pose, you will reach a limit in how long you can hold it. Observing the limits of our bodies and working within them is key. When we find a limit and accept it, the next step is to relax into it. If you can’t relax into a pose, it usually means you need to back off. As soon as you can relax into a pose, that’s when you start to find you’re able to go a bit deeper, stretch a bit further, gradually.
This is why I love yoga so much. I love that I’m getting stronger, more flexible and balanced, sure. But I especially love that I’m doing it with respect for and acceptance of where I’m at, in any moment. And I love how that’s what I’m supposed to be doing! You can never do yoga wrong if you do it with acceptance.
Applying ‘working within our limits’ to the mind
The mind can also get stronger, more flexible and balanced when we work with it in the same way! The first thing to know is, the body and mind, are not who you are. You have a body, you have a mind, and you can work with them.
Identifying with the body and mind causes us so much trouble. It’s much kinder, and easier to deal with the body and mind, when we see them as what we have instead of who we are. Instead of “I am in pain” or “I can’t stop thinking about that”, try “my body is sore today” or “my mind is distracted today”. Does that feel different?
I find it much easier to focus, when I notice “my mind is distracted” and start by accepting it. If we think we are distracted, and we blame ourselves for this, we get caught up in self judgement. It’s not the self that is distracted. It’s the mind. We can work with that. We can find ways to calm and focus the mind. When we find that the mind can only handle so much of something, it’s time to ease off. If we can relax the mind, in the moment, sometimes we find it can handle more.
This can work for emotions too. When we Observe the mind and emotions, and turn toward them with acceptance, it gets easier to let things go. We also start to understand our minds better, how and why certain things effect us certain ways, by using curiosity. We can start noticing, and accepting what’s happening, rather than reacting and judging the thought or emotion.
Working within the limits of the ‘ego’
We need to start getting to know the ego. That thing we call ego, is all the stuff about us, that we might identify as ‘who we are’. It’s great to have a sense of self, if it’s a positive one, as long as we don’t overvalue that sense of uniqueness.
When my first daughter was about 7-15 months, postpartum depression was causing a lot of stress. One thing that helped me, was listening to free audio interviews called The Self-Acceptance Project. Perhaps my biggest ah-ha moment (there were a few other big ones too) came from this idea: the self-esteem movement of the seventies gave rise to a generation of narcissists. Ouch. But basically, it’s far better to learn and teach self-acceptance than self-esteem.
Ego is all about being different and special. Ego thoughts can come in the form of judging others and feeling superior; but they can also come in the form of judging ourselves and feeling not good enough. Any thoughts that compare an aspect of our personality, body, feelings, abilities or lives are ego thoughts. They are thoughts that anything should be different than it is.
As we get to know the ego, we find areas of our lives where it stops us from experiencing happiness and success. Yoga teaches us to bring awareness and acceptance to each moment, without identifying with our body/mind/ego/emotions.
We learn to just notice what is, and then relax into it. Yoga practice helps the body and mind, gradually, to get stronger, more flexible, and balanced.
What do you think? Do you have a regular yoga or mindfulness practice? Let me know in the comments!