My summer yoga challenge

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Well, at least I can say I accomplished something this summer.  On Friday, I attended my 18th yoga class in 9 weeks at Yoga IN Madison.  The day before, I had completed my 18th home practice, thereby completing my summer yoga challenge and earning myself a t-shirt.

Now, I don’t know if summers really should be about accomplishing something, nor am I sure if the whole idea of a challenge is consistent with the ancient Hindu philosophies upon which yoga as a practice is based.  I’ve been doing some reading about the history of yoga, and really, there’s no telling.  In the 19th century in India, yogi’s were kind of shady characters who often performed their super-human yoga tricks for money.  Also, they had a lot of sex.

Which is neither here nor there, I guess.  In the end, I’m glad I did the challenge, and not just because of the t-shirt.  Going to the classes at Yoga IN Madison were great.  I continue to learn so much from the instructors and from practicing with a group of people.  In one class, an instructor said, “Every moment is already perfection.”  Which, yes, of course, you know on some level, but having someone say it out loud to you at the end of your yoga practice has a whole other effect.  That sentence alone made the challenge worth it.

But probably the best part of the challenge for me was the home practice.  It’s good to think about yoga as something that you don’t have to get all geared up for with lots of special equipment.  I tried to do short 15-20 minute sessions at home, but I also tried to throw yoga poses in at all kinds of random moments in the day.  A balancing pose while I’m waiting for the pot of water in the kitchen to boil.  Part of a sun salutation first thing in the morning.  Or just taking a deep breath and pulling my spine up straight while I’m sitting in my chair writing.

My home practice helped me to think about how yoga is not just something you do for an hour or so a couple of times a week.  It can be a new way of thinking about your own body in the world, as well as the relationship between your mind and your body.  And then the relationship between your mind, your body, other people’s minds, other people’s bodies…the universe as a whole.  It’s all about Relationship, the kind that requires a capital letter.

Over the course of the challenge, I did see some improvement in some of my poses.  I think by the end I could bend over a bit more in my forward fold.  And on some days, downward facing dog was much easier.  But on some days it really wasn’t.

The most important thing I got out of the challenge wasn’t necessarily an improvement in my flexibility or the execution of my poses.  It was an improvement in my quality of life.  Yes, my body often felt better, and I knew what I could do to help my feet or back to stop hurting (as someone who suffers from plantar fasciitis, I’ve found nothing that helps more than spending some time in downward-facing dog).  But I was also a little bit calmer, a little bit better able to dwell in the moment.  A little slower to get angry, a little more focused.  A little more able to realize that every moment is, in fact, already perfection.

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