Tenderfoot Yogi Chronicles – It Ain’t Easy Being Mindful

prayerI’ve been practicing yoga for the last six months and while I would like to say I’ve gotten better at it I really can’t. What I can say is that I am finally getting “it.” That is to say, that there is no room for struggling, competing, hurrying, or worrying in yoga.

The goal, the prize is serenity – to unify your body, mind and spirit – to transform.  It makes me think of the chubby caterpillar, Heinrich,  in the children’s movie “Bugs Life” who knows that someday he will be a “beautiful butterfly.” But, like Heinrich, there are layers of conditioned thought I must shed if I am to experience a new dimension of self.  In a nutshell, it’s all about letting go.

Applying that while on the mat is where the “practicing” comes in.  I am able to let go for a few moments here and there, concentrate on my breath, be in the moment.  But, I still catch my mind wandering off to grocery lists during “downward facing dog”, or wondering if my “camel” looks as graceful as the woman’s on my left. I have wished for a fresh pedicure more than once while gandering at my hooves during “dolphin” pose, but I am finding that letting go of the image I have of my feet and my body is a challenge that gets easier the longer I practice.  Who cares what my butt looks like in forward fold? Everyone is facing their own knees anyhow! And when I fall out of a pose, which happens nearly every class, it is not as defeating as it used to be – I just try, try again.

As a tenderfoot entering into some of the more complex movements yoga has to offer I often think of my 3-year-old son, Colin, when he was learning to walk. He was quite determined, no matter how many times he landed on his bum, and every fall elicited a gleeful giggle. He approached walking with good humor and curiousity and was always forgiving of his own mistakes. So, I too am trying to approach yoga with the fresh eyes and passion of a child. I am letting my yoga experience free me, from, well, me.  And I am finding many of life’s stale platitudes echoing anew in my ears, like: “Attitude is everything,” “pride goeth before a fall,” “practice makes perfect,” “wherever you go there you are.” And strangely, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

I say echo, because the lessons are learned over and over and over. Yoga for a novice can turn on a dime, from deep understanding to self-congratulation and right back to frustration. But, with gentle compassion, I nudge my little engine back on the track and think “I can.”

Why, just yesterday I managed to relax into a twist.  Accomplishing such contradictory movements is par for the mat – for instance,  staying grounded in your sitting bones  while lifting up toward the ceiling from the base of your skull actually is possible. Yoga is full of such opposing actions and when achieved – even for an “aha” moment it is a taste of bliss. So I press forward, while being patient – another contradiction conquered!

The awakening is slow, but it keeps me coming back to my mat.  I love the joy that comes after such demanding concentration, the layers of understanding that peel away with every session. I love the deep enigmatic metaphor that is yoga. I have come along enough with my practice to uncover the best kept secret of  yoga – that life is best lived slowly, mindfully, focused in the moment and unencumbered by the small stuff.  It will take many backbends, inversions and sun salutations for me to keep this lesson fresh in my mind, but a moment of unshakeable peace is worth the many moments of practice to get there.