This morning I had the wonderful blessing of taking a free donation class with my teacher, Lauren Lanham, at our local studio here in Fairfield. Lauren has been taking a break from teaching, so it was a real gift to be able to take her class this morning. She began the class by having us all meditate on the meaning of three words: connection, courage, and compassion. What a profound practice this alone can be – to really sit with words such as these and find yourself relating them to your life and your yoga practice. Her words really resonated with me throughout the rest of the class, and I’d like to share with you some of what she spoke about, and my own thoughts as well.
Connection: In yoga we often speak about feeling the connection of the body, mind, and spirit – this is a common theme in many yoga classes I have taken and which I’m sure you have taken as well. But this morning we were all reminded that this practice is also about the connection with everyone else in the room – connecting yourself to other people as well as yourself. It can be easy to see and experience yoga as a very individualized, internal practice, but so much of the beauty of yoga is expressed through relationships; relationships within yourself and your body, but also through relationships you have with other people – friends and strangers alike. When a group comes together to practice yoga, that is a profound expression of the connectedness of all beings, and what a beautiful thing that is. We also were reminded of the connection of our physical bodies to the earth through the yoga mat. I really see my yoga mat as a symbol; a metaphor for me grounding myself back to this earth, finding my roots, connecting to that which is solid, providing a foundation for both my body and my practice. I think it is so important that all of us take the time to think about what the word connection means in our own lives, especially on Thanksgiving, a day where many of us feel the most connected to our families and friends.
Courage: This is a word that maybe we don’t find ourselves thinking about too much, but a word that has a lot to do with our physical asana practice and our behaviors in life in general. Lauren asked us all something that we should probably ask ourselves more often, and that is: Not do you have the courage to go deeper and do the pose, but do you have the courage to not do the pose? Assessing what is appropriate for our own bodies can be a difficult task when surrounded by the many other bodies in a yoga class who are all doing different variations of a pose. Especially in a mixed-level class when one person may be popping up into sirsasana (headstand) in the middle of the room with ease, while you are struggling to find the strength in your shoulders just to create the foundation, it can be really difficult to stay in your own practice. But knowing the limits and boundaries of your own body and your own yoga practice, and adhering to them, really takes courage, and it is a courage that we all must learn how to harness. If we practice in this way we stay true to our own nature, and we will find an ease in our practice that is free from tension and risks no injury. And, if we begin to practice this type of courage on the yoga mat, it will undoubtedly begin to manifest the courage to stay true to ourselves in the rest of our lives…and maybe, just maybe, our yoga practice and the “rest” of our lives will start to become one.
Compassion: This word really resonates with me, as I am sure it does for many people, because it can mean so many different things. But this morning, it was all about treating yourself with compassion, something that some of us may not do enough. Especially during the holiday season, there is an intense focus on giving to and being compassionate towards others, which is a beautiful and noble practice in and of itself, however we can easily forget that in order to act in this way we must first treat ourselves with compassion. Forgiving ourselves for what we can’t do and loving ourselves for what we can do is the first step in living with compassion. On the yoga mat this might mean taking more time to ease into a pose rather than jumping into the fullest expression of it right away. Or maybe it means backing off when you feel a sting of pain in the knee where you don’t normally feel it. Or maybe, it means taking a rest in child’s pose when you find your mind wandering and your breath becoming short. Whatever it means for you, take the time to center your practice around treating yourself with compassion, and notice how it allows more freedom to enter your space. We all want to be treated with compassion and love, but we need to start with ourselves first.
I hope that this Thanksgiving finds everyone happy and healthy, and if you haven’t yet taken the time out of your day to be on your yoga mat, please do so, even if it’s just to take a few deep breaths. Find that connection to yourself and to others, and go about your day with the courage to be true to who you are, and treat yourself and everyone you meet with compassion.
Happy Thanksgiving, Om shanti…