Yoga as a Practice

“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” feet dirty grass (Thich Naht Han)

Yoga is often described as a practice. Those new to yoga sometimes wonder why the word “practice” is so frequently used in describing yogic activities. One reason is that its ambiguity allows for the incorporation of the full scope of what yoga is. Many beginners initially come to a yoga class for a workout, only to find themselves slowly incorporating meditation practices, dietary adjustments and even contemplating far-reaching lifestyle changes. It is only when the practice of yoga goes beyond asana and spills into the rest of life that it becomes yoga in its truest sense. Yoga is first and foremost a philosophy of living and more than a decade of making yoga an essential part of my life has given me lots of opportunities to repeatedly rediscover this essence. An example that comes to mind was in the unlikely form of a new pair of sneakers.

feet vibrams and grassLast summer, I purchased a pair of “barefoot” running shoes. Being a yoga teacher. I regularly talk about the benefits of being barefoot so this type of footwear made sense to me. After my very first run in them I was addicted. Yes, the feeling of having my feet perform the way they were designed to work was wonderful but what stood out to me the most was how easy it was for me to run in a meditative way. Rather than forgetting about my feet, as I did in regular running shoes, the whole experience of running became about my feet and the earth. At the end of my run, I could feel the imprint of the bottoms of my feet on the earth pressed into my mind. I realized that once again I had found yoga outside the yoga studio and was reminded that yoga is everything that is done in mindfulness.

This reminded me of a similar experience years ago when I worked downtown and rode my bike up Prescott street everyday. About half way through the summer, I realized that I didn’t enjoy this part of my ride. It was hard. I often had to take a break halfway up and I spent the whole time obsessing over how far away the top of the hill was, wondering if I could make it without stopping. One day, I didn’t do this and instead began to breathe with my pedaling, thinking of the end of each push down as a long luxurious break when I would take a giant breath in. Suddenly, the uphill portion of the trip didn’t even seem to be all that physically challenging. From that moment, Prescott Street became my favorite part of the commute. Even now, after all the time that has passed, I can still visualize the individual breaths and pedal movements of that uphill journey. I was so present in each moment that it feels as if it happened yesterday.

A beautiful Shakti yogini sent me one of her blog posts about finding this same kind of yoga flowing into her swimming routine; as I read it, I smiled and thought once again of how far-reaching a yoga practice is. I am blessed to be surrounded by many other yoga practitioners who have inspired me by sharing their experiences, whether it be the yoga of the kitchen, the garden, spending time with people or even giving birth. Yoga in its fullest sense brings awareness and, in turn, gratitude into the smallest things. It transforms experiences by transforming how you exist inside them. Is it always easy? Absolutely not. That’s why it is called a practice. But like everything that we practice doing, it gets easier and more enjoyable as we go along.

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