Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I frequently talk to my yoga classes about their mental/spiritual "toolbox". A group of tools we can access as we work on our mat. The thing about yoga though, is that we practice with our tools on the mat in order to be able to use them off the mat - in real life. 

We can put a lot of good stuff in our toolbox. Deep breaths, sighs, ujjayi breath,  kindness, forgiveness, discipline, stillness, lack of expectation... The list goes on. 

During a yoga practice we might need to pull out a variety of tools. A deep sigh at the beginning of class to let go of our day and focus on the practice. Discipline during the physically challenging lunges or planks. Forgiveness and loving kindness during a stretch that highlights the tightness in the shoulders or hamstrings. The same can be true for facing the challenges in our daily life. 

Periodically I like to spend some time focusing on one tool. Honing it. Practicing with it. Making note of its' many uses. 

With respect to the seasonal change (dear God, please let the season change) I've been focusing lately on the tool of openness, or lack of expectation. 

In late winter we know that spring is coming, yet we are able to anticipate its' arrival without throwing open the door every day enraged by the lack of crocuses and balmy breezes. If we take, on the other hand, our experience on the yoga mat - how easily do we await the arrival of the practice where we finally touch our toes in forward fold or when we make it through sun salutions without huffing and puffing. 

We don't. We curse ourselves and our hamstrings, our lack of cardiovascular endurance. And while we're at it - we curse that bendy lightweight who never huffs, nor puffs, nor struggles. 

SO. Openness. Lack of expectation. 

On the mat we work to approach each practice with openness, without assumption. Obviously, this is hard. Yoga is repetitive and we know where our weaknesses are. So we work. We work to let go of our expectation. We work to enter each practice, each pose, each moment as if we've never been there before. Because, in reality, we never have. We've never been in this moment before, and we'll never be here again. 

The way to begin using this tool, cultivating that openness, is simply to observe our mind. When our instructor names the next posture or sequence what pops up in the mind? First we become aware - then - we can let go. Then we can come back to this moment. Experiencing the pose this time, without comparing it to last time or judging it against an expectation of how it should be. 

Like all things in yoga, we practice this on the mat so that we have it in our toolbox off the mat. So that when we encounter that same difficult person, or that same frustrating situation - perhaps we could be open to a new encounter, a new experience. 

Just as on the mat - first comes observation. Noting the way we mentally prepare to interact with a person we know before they even arrive. Knowing just what they will do and say. Knowing just how they will be. 

The way our shoulders elevate and tighten as we walk toward that certain meeting at work. Knowing the way it will go. Aggravated before it even starts. 

SO. First, the observation. Then, the letting go. We figure out how to quiet the mind (and relax those damn shoulders) before our interactions. Sure, things may go down just exactly the way we had anticipated. But, they may not - and if we are not open to a different experience -then it will certainly never be any different. 

Being able to let go of expectation, it's a powerful tool. I promise. All that endless chatter and preparation (those imaginary conversations and arguments) take up an awful lot of mental energy. Without them clogging up the works, we become truly present to a situation, with access to our own inner wisdom.

So whether we are a yogi or not - we can observe our mind. What arises as we approach all the people and events in our day. First, we observe. Then, we let go, coming back - time and again - to this very moment, with nothing between us and our good heart. 


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