Living Your Yoga: Beyond the Mat: “Check-in with Yourself”

2015-02-05 23.15.24How does a cat tell you he’s cold? It’s a tough one. He has no words to express his feelings. He has to do his best cat pantomime.

My cat meowed at me with that “I’m hungry” look, but he wasn’t. He had plenty of food and water available. Maybe he wants to go out, I thought. I opened the door, but he stared at me dumbfounded. He clearly didn’t want to go out. He turned and walked the other way, disgusted.

“What?” I barked at him.

Later when the furnace kicked on, I saw him hunched up next to a  heat vent and I finally understood; his scraggly winter coat wasn’t doing the job. If he was a poodle, I’d have bought him a sweater! Instead, I pulled out an old blanket and made him a little nest on a chair situated right over a heat vent. He’s been holed up there for days, happy as a clam. Although he tried, he couldn’t really communicate his needs to me directly. We just weren’t speaking the same language.

I think the same thing happens to each of us when we get busy. Our body and soul have a tough time communicating with our hyperactive minds. What we really need in any given moment isn’t always clear to us because we’re not paying attention to how we’re feeling. Subtle signs of discomfort have to take on epic proportions to get attention – that’s when we become sick or depressed or angry. We literally explode from the pressure.

But what if we could learn to pay more attention to our inner needs? How might it help us through the day if we could simply check–in with how we’re doing, on every level, mentally, physically, emotionally?

Imagine this: It’s an 8am yoga class and you’re right in the middle of the most challenging standing sequence you’ve ever experienced and your instructor says, “from plank, come into Child’s pose.” Yay! Not Downward-facing Dog again – for the 50th time, but Child’s pose! Your heart is racing and your breath is elevated. Your back is shaking and your chest heaving, but you don’t care; you’re happy to stop. Finally a moment to rest, but is it really?

Although it feels good to slow down, the real work of yoga comes full circle when we are in Child’s Pose. Curling up like a baby isn’t just an opportunity to catch your breath; it’s an opportunity to go within, to take notice of how you’re feeling during your practice. Child’s pose seems to come to us perfectly, just when we feel maxed out by our practice, our legs on fire, and our core shaking like jell-o on the inside. We might feel winded, even weak. It’s the perfect time to listen to how the body is feeling, and discover how the mind reacts to physical stress. We use Child’s pose as an opportunity to reconnect with our inner life. We close off the rest of the room, the rest of the world, and we go within to check in, to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?”

childs-pose

In Child’s pose, close your eyes. With your forehead resting on the mat, neck and shoulders relaxed, pelvic bowl resting on the heels, listen to your breath. Is it ragged and halting? If so, can you bring it into a steady flow again, slow and even? Are you holding tension in any part of your body? Can you let it go? Can you keep letting it go? Are you struggling with the practice? Are you judging yourself, or loving yourself? Can you find some kindness in your heart and accept your practice where it is today, regardless of where it’s been before, or where you expect it to be?

These are all questions that relate equally well to life, and where we imagine ourselves to be. Are we flowing with life or struggling against what is? Are we balanced in our activities or running full bore towards a future we won’t enjoy any more than the present? Are we holding on fiercely to expectations we have for our lives, or are we practicing the gentle art of surrender and letting go?

It’s no coincidence that our yoga practice often reflects the challenges we face every day. Child’s pose is the place to be reminded; yoga isn’t about proving anything to anyone. Yoga is about reconnecting with the Self, with what really matters to you and with what you are doing out there in the World. Yoga is about finding balance between the internal and the external – about bringing integrity to your life and knowing that what you are doing is in alignment with what you want. In order to get there, we have to check in. We have to be quiet a moment and watch – listen and pay attention to the subtle signs. They are all around us waiting for us to notice.

When, in your busy day, might you remember to close your eyes, go within and take a few deep breaths, listen for your heartbeat, reconnect with why you are here and what matters most in your life?

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