This summer has been a blessing in many ways. For one thing, things have just... changed around here. I've changed, my routines have changed (a little ;-) and I've been trying new things. Contrary to what I initially thought, I've discovered that my yoga practice is enhanced when I add new things to my life. It's such a great realization--I don't have to clear my life to focus on my yoga practice; so long as I get myself there and give 100%, the practice continues to unfold.
In the last couple of months, away from school, experimenting with new ideas, I've learned that my practice is enhanced by a few things in particular:
- Meditation: In the past year, I've been working on cultivating a meditation practice. (In particular, Tonglen has been really helpful. Helps you develop concentration and provides a path to really meeting and conquering the demons haunting your life--I find it a bit "easier" than traditional, "focus-on-your-breath" meditation.) I've noticed that my mind is calmer in the hot room when I meditate daily. I am able to focus more deeply in each posture on an aspect of my body. Today, for example, I thought so deeply about the standing leg in Eagle pose. It was like each muscle in my thigh came to life! I still have days when my neurotic stuff can take over, but I find that to be less and less of a challenge.
- Sleep! Who knew that sleeping enough would be so helpful? :-) School isn't in session, and my external stressors are low. I'm able to get a solid eight hours of sleep almost every night, and it makes such a difference when I'm in the yoga room. Must remember to commit to sleep when the semester starts!
- Eating well and when needed: This is another luxury afforded by my summer break from teaching. You know how it is when you don't have time to prepare the food your body needs, or eat when you're actually hungry. And, worst of all is forcing yourself to eat because you're on a tight schedule.
- Whey protein shakes: While we're on the topic of eating well, I gotta give a shout-out to whey protein. I don't eat meat except for fish anymore, and even that is a rarity. As a result, I've gotta be careful about eating enough protein. A friend turned me onto whey protein shakes in the morning. A little almond or soy milk, some powder and a selection of frozen fruit and you've got an amazing-tasting shake. Plus, it feels so nice and light in my stomach that I can practice yoga an hour after I drink one. The attention and time spent making the shake each morning is like a meditation, too.
- Not having attachments to the outcome of the practice: This is huge. I have got to admit. Ironic as it sounds, I would actually have anxiety going into class. I'd set up these weird expectations for myself--hold Standing Bow the whole time! Don't sit out a posture!-- and then I'd beat myself up or congratulate myself depending on the outcome of the class. Madness, I tell you. Also, totally common and normal. But I think these expectations need to go. The last couple months, I am able to notice when I hold a posture the entire time, or when I feel particularly focused in class, but I seem to attach less judgment to it. And that's a great feeling. There's that great quote by Courtney Mace, Bishnu Ghosh, yoga champion about competition: "[Competition] happens every time you step into the hot room, and it’s a competition between the ego and the soul. And the soul always wins." I'd take it a step further and say the soul wins so long as you're taking up the struggle against the ego. Being there (in yoga, in meditation, whatever) just helps us see that the ego has always been powerless in the face of soul.