During my yoga teacher training, someone said to me “start from where you are”. I thought “well that’s stupid – where else would I start from??” But to this day it is one of the tenants that I live by and say to myself most days.
The ethos behind JIIVA is about embracing imperfection and celebrating the unique within us – we can’t do this if we are constantly trying to start from an impossible position that judges us against unrealistic standards or other people’s goals – we need to set our own.
For example, once upon a time I was a single woman living in Sydney on the northern beaches, working fulltime in a job I loved, with a fairly stress free life. I was dedicated to my Ashtanga Yoga practice every morning and made sure I attended a least one Mysore and one Led class each week. I am a goals oriented person so a practice like Ashtanga really ticks my boxes! I felt a sense of achievement and progress from my practice and I loved the drive of moving onto a new pose or feeling my physical strength grow.
What I didn’t realise was that my regular practice was much more than this. It was a ‘moving meditation’ that was in fact a daily routine of stillness and calm in my mind that gave me the foundations for why I loved my job and allowed me to feel that I had a stress free life.
Years later my life had changed dramatically to commuting 4 hours per day to work 4 days per week, having 3 children under 3.5 years old, managing a mortgage and looking after a household. The blissful routine of a morning Ashtanga Yoga practice was well and truly gone. In fact, I don’t actually remember at what point it stopped – just that one day I wasn’t doing it anymore!
The struggle I felt was immense. I ached for the physical practice. I longed to be on the matt. But what I thought was a physical desire for yoga in my life, was in fact the absence of that ‘moving meditation’ and the stillness that came with it.
Each morning I would try to force myself to get up before the kids (which is a huge challenge when they wake up at 5am!) and get back into my Ashtanga practice. I struggled with the poses that once I had been able to do; I felt rushed and anything but calm; and when a baby called out to me I felt angry that the stillness I was searching for had been interrupted. What a terrible thing for a parent to feel – that your child is in the way of your own life!
The biggest shift for me now was to accept my new situation. I had challenged it for too long and not only was it not getting me anywhere but I was developing resentment towards the things in my life that I saw as barriers. I was unhappy because I was trying to start from an impossible position.
So I sat down and thought about back to those words I had heard so many years before – “start from where you are”. I released myself from the torture of trying to get onto the yoga matt at 5am and I accepted that my practice was no longer an hour of moving meditation. I developed a new goal and a new starting position and that was to try and be present and mindful for 5 minutes a day. Sounds like a pretty small goal but as a time poor, stressed parent it was the best I could do and it was where I had to start from. By nurturing a realistic starting position I felt the sense of calmness returning and I integrated it into my life – if I made a cup of tea I sat in contemplation whilst the kettle boiled; when I got out of bed in the morning I would do 3 Sun Salutations before getting dressed; and when life got in the way and not even those small things happened I consciously let it go and accepted it.
So it turns out that for me, my yoga practice is like a little protective bubble – by taking time for even 5 minutes of mindfulness, meditation, or asana I feel calmer, less stressed, and able to take on the days challenges. For me every day is a chance to start again, every day is a different day and a different starting place from the day before. I haven’t lost my drive or desire to do more, but I have developed a sense of acceptance that I am on a different part of the journey than where I was 10 years ago.
TAKING THIS INTO PRACTICE
Some tips for taking the concepts in this article into practice:
- Take time for self-reflection and self-observation
Use the times we often try to multitask as opportunities for reflection. For example if you are standing at the bus stop or train station, resist the urge to take out your phone and fill your mind with new information. Try taking that 2 minutes of waiting for the bus or train as a time to reflect on your day, your feelings and thoughts.
- Consider if you are judging yourself and placing impossible goals around you
Do you feel resistance, anger or resentment if there are barriers to your personal practice? Are those judgements from your own standards or others? Who do you feel you are you competing with?
- Nurture a sense of acceptance and non-judgement for yourself and your practice
Consider the changes in your personal practices over time. If a feeling of discomfort arises, ponder on it for a moment and observe why you feel that way. Then release the thought and send it away with a sense of acceptance and non-judgement.