What it Really Means to Practice Yoga

I recently had the privilege of vacationing in Central America. It was blissful and rejuvenating—no schedule, no alarms, no traffic, no anxiety, and no responsibilities.

When I returned home to Vancouver, I expected a couple of things: Firstly, I expected to be perfectly bronzed and salt-water exfoliated, glowing with a Caribbean halo that oozed rest and youth. Secondly, I expected to bring the flow of peace and calm back home with me, and have it translate to my workplace and relationships.

Alas, my dry, flaking skin and post-travel day dark circles weren't the only things that didn't meet my expectations. I felt as though I had no tolerance for anyone or anything. I felt irritated by clients, work, traffic, text messages from friends and family. Occurrences that had previously been met with patience and mindfulness—case notes, lineups, emails—were now met with resentment and annoyance, followed by frustration and dismay that I had so quickly lost my “Zen” state that had seemed to come so easily in Nicaragua.

And then I was reminded, this is why it's called practice.

Just as we lose our physical flexibility and strength when we have not been stretching our muscles regularly, we lose our emotional and cognitive flexibility and strength when we have not been "tested" or stepped out of those comfort zones.

If we aren't mindfully practicing refraining, patience, non-reactivity, and compassion, as we do in yoga, we risk being "out of practice" and lacking such skills when tested. If yoga is the primary place we choose to do this, a hiatus from practice might not just affect your physical flexibility and strength --we also might lose our focus, or our calm, or our compassion. Fortunately, once learned, we are able to access these skills more quickly than we would have before learning them (think muscle-memory), as we've created the neural pathways; we just need to strengthen them (“neurons that fire together wire together”).

This doesn't mean you can't holiday, or that you must keep up a militantly regular practice all the time. The flow of life will make it so you are sometimes faced with excellent opportunities to practice and sometimes not. But, you can do this whenever you experience a difficult feeling in your daily life. Whenever I'm feeling bored, or angry, or frustrated, or impatient, or sad, or rejected, I remind myself it's excellent practice in tolerating (insert difficult feeling here), and it contributes to me reacting to that feeling in more helpful ways. Still, know that it's a continual process that does not end. We don't become experts or acquire these skills without having to train them mindfully. However, just as you likely believe the time, effort, and physical discomfort you experience in the asana is worth the physical benefit, you will likely find the same goes for your cognitive and emotional practice. And, your colleagues, clients, family, and friends will probably agree. I know mine do.

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