Despite being a David Bowie aficionado, I realized something was wrong when the song, “Under Pressure,” was playing on repeat in my head.
I had left the film industry a few years before, precisely to escape living in a state of constant anxiety.
I had even chosen a career path founded on being centered and serene. Yet, there I found myself one afternoon, late for my next class (my fourth of the day), salad contents spilled on the floor of the car, bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles, and this overwhelming feeling that I was falling off the edge of a cliff.
This was not what I had envisioned when I decided to teach yoga.
Instead, I was treating my yoga career exactly as I had treated my film career and everything else in my life, for that matter. I was placing inordinate expectations on myself to be perfect and to achieve. As a result, I was burning myself out and running on fumes. This included my physical practice too. I was definitely not living my yoga. Rather, I was turning my yoga into work.
Through our practice, we can restructure how we approach our everyday lives. Everything we do on the mat, we do off of the mat.
This is particularly true when it comes to the pressures we place upon ourselves. But this also means that through practice, we can break harmful habits. Just like we learn to stop crunching our shoulders in downward facing dog, we can learn to stop beating ourselves up for not “nailing” a pose or falling out of Warrior III.
In yoga, we are encouraged to work hard (abhyasa), but this must then go hand-in-hand with detaching from the results of that work (vairagya). Otherwise our ego dictates our life, taking us further away from our true nature.
Start by observing thought patterns both in the physical postures and in meditation. What are the themes that tend to arise? Are they self-limiting, strict or overly punitive?
Once you catch the seedlings of the ideas, you then have the choice to either perpetuate the disapproving schema or move towards being more compassionate towards yourself.
You arrive at that veritable fork in the road of the conscious mind: expectation or acceptance.
Most days, the default setting of “doing” will override our attempts at just “being.” Rather than getting frustrated and doubling up on feeling bad about yourself, be excited that you noticed your proclivity. Awareness is the first, and most important step.
Over time, you will catch yourself more quickly, both on and off the mat. Then by strengthening the muscles of acceptance and compassion, just as one strengthens the quadriceps, you learn how to back off and give yourself a break.
More importantly, instead of turning yoga into work, you are able to make your work become your yoga.
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