Practicing With Gratitude

Today on my mat, it came to me in a flash that I take my practice — and myself — way too seriously. I’ve wrestled in my life with being what you might call a “type A” achiever. From an early age as a little ballerina and straight A student, I’ve tended to put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and excel. This of course has resulted in some achievement, and that’s not necessarily a “bad” thing; but this attitude of pushing myself ever harder has resulted in a chronic, persistent stress; the stress of always striving to be something better. No matter what rung of the ladder I would climb, there was always one above me to reach.

The practice teaches me that paradoxically, the more I can learn to relieve myself of that burden mentally, the more my physical body will relax and cooperate. The intensity of my drive to master ironically stifles my mind/body, and makes everything harder and more painful, whereas the fruits lie in those delicious moments of surrender and ease, when I let go of the need to prove anything — to others, to my teacher, to my parents, to society, to social media audiences, and even to myself. We can make a conscious decision to take the pressure off of ourselves and thereby make ourselves and others around us a whole lot happier.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t working diligently; just that we are doing so without the added pressure of needing to “be” anything or anyone more than we already are, right now. This is quite a re-wiring of the Western brain. It is perhaps a symptom of the fact that we have all of our basic needs met that we look for struggle elsewhere. This tendency to lose perspective is what is known as the phenomenon of the “first-world problem”. It’s really my responsibility to recognize that no matter what pose is giving me frustration, my reaction is ridiculous. It’s just not worth ruffling our feathers over imperfections in a yoga posture. I have thus decided to cut out all huffing, sighing, self-flagellating, complaining, grimacing, whining, and moaning from my practice. This is a tall order for me, but it’s really changed things. It’s made me lighter, happier, and frankly “better”, in that I’m more easily able to flow through my practice with uninterrupted, even breath.

Above all, with all the insanely horrible things going on in the world, the bottom line is that we are SO LUCKY to have the luxury to be able to practice yoga, to find those precious moments of peace in a world filled with chaos and strife. People who are foraging for food and fresh water, or dodging landmines and bombs, or those who have lost limbs, are not so fortunate. So I vow that the next time I automatically begin to overreact to losing my balance, or to not being able to complete a posture, I’ll remember how blessed I am in every way, and I’ll simply smile with serene joy.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Yoga: for the opportunity to change, to let go, and to find peace. Eternally Grateful.

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