Let’s be honest. Yoga, like life, is a practice, and I am far from practicing either perfectly. I’ll be the first to admit that I have ridiculously high expectations for myself, and I’m really good at beating myself up when I fall short. I want to be able to do things, most things, (okay, everything) well, if not specatularly well. And when I don’t, which I won’t, because I can’t, I get frustrated and discouraged. And believe me, I know that as a yoga teacher this isn’t exactly politically correct to admit. I’m not supposed to be goal-oriented or ego-driven. In fact, I’m supposed to be non-judgmental, patient and compassionate with everyone, including myself. I’m accepting and understanding of everything, and I embrace all sentient living creatures with equal amounts of love. But let’s be real for a moment? It’s just not that easy.
As yogis and yoginis we hope to practice the yamas (non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation and non-hoarding) and live a life full of mindfulness, and compassion. It is a noble aspiration be as mindful of our first breath as our the last, and all the breaths we take in between. For most of us, there will be breaths that will stack up as hugely alert (focused pranayam, the first breath drawn after a 90 second hold beneath the waves, an exhale which crowns a baby’s head, a gasp taken in horror or ecstasy, or the last sigh before the soul leaves the body). Others, here and there, are simply stolen from the atmosphere on autopilot, our attention diverted to the many other things swirling around in our minds. When we practice mindfullness we try to be aware of as many breaths as possible.
Whether it’s adhering to a schedule of daily asana and/or meditation, taking my 2 year-old to the beach, or finding time to fold and put away 3 loads of laundry, one of the things that gets in my way is my desire to do it all. Things, sometimes many, fall by the wayside-because that’s what happens with life, and I often feel disappointed I when I don’t accomplish more. I feel bad when I don’t make time to study, and worse when I haven’t had an opportunity to reflect on my spiritual path. And I think that because I am a yoga teacher, there are times I feel an additional pressure, to navigate through my life with fundamentalist’s fever. I either berate myself when my mindfulness slips and slides: when I say something judgmental about someone, get angry at my partner, feel enraged when someone hurts my feelings, or yell at my child. Real yoga teachers don’t loose their patience with their off-spring, do they? Well, yes – actually… they do. I’ve asked around. We do. And I’m going to be honest with you: I do too.
If I don’t punish myself for being a “better yogi”, I might find myself pushing back against the practice with a rebelliousness that harkens to my angry, jaded and nihilistic 20’s: So I passed a judgment, I might say to myself, so what…everybody else does. I lost my temper; um, well he did yesterday…and so on. But this response is childish, and no less toxic that the aforementioned self-flagellation. So I remind myself, as I’m doing here, in print, that letting up on myself is the better option, and every day presents us with yet another opportunity to recommit to the path of mindfulness.
The truth is, I make mistakes. We all do. And maybe you haven’t, but I’m going to venture a guess that you’ve probably lied at some point, such as I have. I’ve stolen. I’ve acted out of jealousy, and anger. I’ve been competitive in my asana practice and envious of other teachers and students. I am extremely insecure from time to time, and especially depending on where I am in my cycle I can be emotionally unpredictable and even volatile. I don’t floss my teeth every night, and I haven’t used a neti in months. I once lost my patience with my late husband, who was dying of cancer, and asked me for a glass of water at the end of a very trying day. I yelled at him. He was dying. Did I mention he was dying? He forgave me, because he hadn’t an ounce of anger, resentment or judgement left in his body those last few weeks, he was already moving into a more enlightened state of consciousness. I didn’t forgive myself for years.
I got there, eventually, because I finally accepted that I couldn’t carry that kind of pain around with me and be the kind of person I want to be. I knew that at the time, (27 and on the brink of losing someone I was very much in love with) I did the very best I was capable of. There are other things I haven’t accepted yet, and travesties I haven’t forgiven yet but maybe, with time, and practice, I’ll get there too.
I might not, at this point in my life, be able to take a month-long retreat to India, or Bali, or some other exotic spiritual destination, nor can I bow out of my parenting responsibilities and instead bow to the feet of a guru, or keep my every thought focused on devotional intentions – and actually, if I’m honest – I don’t want to. But I can work here, within the context of my pretty awesome life, and practice meaningfully within the scope of my relationships. I can be a yoga teacher, and a yoga student. A mother and a lover.Shiva and Shakti. I can practice patients with my son. I can practice thoughtfulness with my partner. And I can practice engaging with the people in and around me with compassion and love. My practice will not be perfect. But I am committed to being the best possible me I can possibly be.
My partner recently told me that he wasn’t interested in being in a relationship with someone content to settle for less. It’s a good thing I’m not either.