Living a Life of Practice
I have the afternoon off from teacher training and as I sit at my table watching the weather change from misty rain to sunshine and slowly back to rain I know that spring is here, the season of growth and renewal. In January of this year I wrote a blog entry about how I felt that 2012 was going to be a big year that would require courage and a willingness to shift, and just three months in to the year I am reflecting on how very true that has proven to be. In the last month the yoga community that I was aligned with, and that I have received much inspiration from, has gone through a powerful dissolution. At the same time we are planning for a big move to a new town which means leaving the town I have lived in for most of my adult life, and my husband is going through a period of deep questioning as he redefines his goals and his dreams. It seems no area of my life will be left untouched by the power of change this year and as a result my daily practices of asana, meditation, study and self care are more needed then ever.
Though we consider it natural for night to follow day and winter to follow summer somehow when it comes to things changing or in our own lives we often find ourselves resisting. And of course it is hard to accept change when it means that someone we love is going to pass on or the community we are part of starts to evolve into something that is not familiar to us- but accept it we must for relationships and human lives are just as subject to the laws of nature as the trees outside my window and the tides moving up and down the beach.
Most of us crave cycles of growth and renewal in our lives, as we all want to feel the newness of discovery and expansion in our relationships, in our careers, and in our spiritual practice. But we often forget that before growth there must be a period of birth, and before birthing there is a period of change, death or release. It is in these aspects of the pulsation that we often become stuck, because death or letting go is painful, and birth requires effort and a willingness to push into the unknown.
In the science of Ayurveda the spring season is ruled by the elements of Earth and Water and if we look at the qualities of these elements we find powerful tools that we can bring into our practice and our lives to help us navigate times of change with greater skillfulness.
The Earth element offers us the power of steadiness and discipline, while the Water element teaches us that the ability to be adaptable makes us strong and allows us to flow with life’s shifting currents. This week in teacher training we looked at Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and one of my favorite sutras is Sutra 1:12, where we are introduced to the concepts of Abhayasa, or determined practice, and Vairagya, or non- attachment. When I think of Abhayasa I am reminded of the Earth element and the way that commitment to practice is strengthened over a long period of time, through repeated effort, and in the face of all obstacles. This type of commitment to growth takes strength and discipline which are qualities related to the Earth element. Vairagya asks us to be fluid, not grasping to outcomes or clinging to our expectations, and yet still remain committed to growth, which takes immense flexibility, qualities of the Water element.
This month in your home practice work on cultivating steadiness by committing to doing a regular period of practice at the same time each day. It doesn’t need to be long and involved but it does need to be consistent. Try 10 minutes of Sun Salutations each morning or 15 minutes of meditation to begin or end your day. The consistency and commitment to daily practice will allow you to strengthen the qualities of Earth in your life. To bring the adaptability of Water in allow yourself to notice how each day of practice will have it’s own challenges and delights and encourage yourself to be open to and receptive to both. If something comes up and you can’t practice at the time you had scheduled in, don’t give up or skip it for the day but rather fit it in at the next available opportunity. If you are open to it that opportunity will present itself, even in the busiest of days, and when it does make sure to take advantage of it even if it means meditating in the lunchroom at work or doing your Sun Salutations at the park while you walk your dog.
I am still young at just 36 years of age but I have learned that life is complex and mysterious, as full of joy as it is pain and difficulty. It is with immense gratitude that I reflect on the experiences I’ve had and the teachers I’ve met as they have brought me to the path of yoga, and yoga has taught me a way of living that asks me to remain open and responsive to life even when it may seem easier to shut down, cry victim, or avoid action. Through practice I have learned that if I can stay both open and engaged then I am able to celebrate the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, and the haunting beauty of winter in each aspect of my life. By living a life of practice I am able to receive the richness of life in all its entirety and though it doesn’t promise me a life free from challenge it does give me the ability to meet the challenges that are sure to arise with courage and with grace.