The word Practice in the context of Yoga implies growth and exploration… moving forward on our journey. However, often in our lives we fall into patterns of habitual thoughts and actions that develop out of a different kind of practice; the practice of comfort and complacency. There is nothing wrong with habitual thoughts and actions as long as they serve us. Stability and predictability are comfortable and safe and make us feel secure in our everyday. It is when these habits of thought or action (Samskaras) deter us from pushing outside our comfort zone and growing that we may choose to re-evaluate them. The mindfulness of our yoga practice on and off the mat can help us to identify these unhealthy Samskaras and push beyond the practice (routine).
What inspired me to explore this concept is that I have contemplated getting a tattoo for the past several years. I had wavered back and forth and worried about taking this step that felt so far from my normal. However, in the last several months I began to formulate a clearer picture of the symbolism I wanted to represent on my body for the rest of my life. I also began to feel more secure that, as I am in my 4th decade on this planet, what I find meaningful now will continue to be so for me. Throughout this journey I shared my thoughts with my family. My husband and daughter were supportive but my 11 year old son was extremely resistant. He was angry and scared that this would change me somehow. His fear came from the anticipation of an action or event that was uncomfortable and way outside his comfort zone.
We all experience those impulses both on and off our mats. Those moments of doubt that comes from the fear of the bad outcome of taking a chance. Sometimes when I look out at the room while I am showing a “peak pose” I see it. That look of “no chance” on my students faces. We have that reaction at times to protect ourselves from failure. But failure is a powerful thing. It’s only through failure that continual growth in our practice can occur and we find our true journey. That is the whole purpose of the practice.
I asked my students to practice stepping outside of their comfort zone a bit this week on their mats. We added lots of heart opening and backbends into our flow and played with transitions using side plank to lead us to high lunge. I reminded my students that if they fell out of the pose it was no big deal.. it’s just practice not permanent (like a tattoo!). Towards the end of practice we moved to the wall to work in different versions of forearm stand. Inversions challenge the practical, safe side of our psyche. Intellectually it is difficult to turn things “upside down” and settle into the possibility of balancing our whole bodies on our forearms. Yet, just like our practice on the mat builds strength and flexibility in the body and growth on our journey, pushing past the fear in the mind and surrendering to the path is just as important. What we say to ourselves becomes the truth. Whether we believe we can or we can’t we are right.
So (in case you were wondering) I went ahead and got my tattoo last week. Up until the morning of my appointment my son was still begging me not to take the plunge. He looked so forlorn heading off to the bus that morning that it almost broke my resolve. When he arrived home from school he asked if I had done it. When I answered “yes” he tentatively asked to take a look. I watched his face relax once he pushed past his fear to see that nothing significant was really different. A small tattoo on my forearm had not changed me in any meaningful way.
A few days later, after he had time to fully let go of his fear, we were in the car and he said “When I get a tattoo I might just get a small circle… just so I could say I got one…to conquer my fear”. I smiled to myself… and then promptly had a debate in my head about whether I was modeling the wrong behavior. However, upon further reflection, I circled back to place of peace in my mind. My hope through this process was to show him that with mindfulness, stepping out of my comfort zone helped me grow as a person; not change who I was but rather just allow me to live my truth a little more. Each of us has the chance to step out of our comfort zone in mindful ways in order to more fully live in our truth. That is one of the gifts of this practice; when we are mindful we can see and when we can see then the path is clear. Namaste.
(In case you were wondering what my tattoo looks like see the picture below. It has the initials of my husband and two children on the top of the Unalome (symbol of the Buddhist path to enlightenment))