January 12, 2012

What My Infant Son Taught Me About a Richer Practice. ~ Melissa Mukti Devi Long

Imagine a baby happily lying on a blanket, looking up at the world above, smiling and cooing and basically enjoying the view. Now imagine that a toy catches his peripheral attention, next to him, not far out of reach. If he could roll onto his belly, he could reach it. But he doesn’t roll. Not yet. So what happens now? He’ll reach. He’ll really reach. He’ll reach with all his might. He’ll roll partially to the side and then flop back. He’ll roll partially to the side and then flop back. He’ll tire and give up for now. But he’ll try again in two hours or tomorrow. And eventually he’ll roll over and get that toy. He’ll do it when his muscles and coordination are ready. He’ll do it without injury or pain.

He is perfectly in tune with his body and does not judge himself because he’s 3 weeks behind the “milestone charts.” He is a perfect yogi.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a yoga class and the teacher will give an instruction that makes me want to burst out laughing. “Yeah, right,” goes the internal dialogue. But internal dialogue is really not helpful in yoga (or in life). It can be very limiting.

I remember a class where we were in one-legged downward dog. The teacher asked us to walk the hands in to either side of the bottom foot and kick the top leg as high as we could. That was pretty challenging. Then she suggested we bring one hand and the other onto the ankle. That did not seem possible. I didn’t budge either hand. “Just try it,” she encouraged, “you never know.”

So I tried raising one hand, got wobbly, put the hand back down. Tried raising the other hand, got wobbly, put the hand back down. Tried raising both and starting to pitch forward, having to catch myself with a thunk!  Not exactly graceful, I admit. But I was trying.And in yoga, trying will get you somewhere. Often times it will get you there quicker than you would have thought possible.If there is a pose you’ve told yourself you can’t do, well, you’re probably right. But what if you said, “I haven’t done that pose yet?” What if you gave yourself space to try or even just to envisionyourself in the pose? What if while the rest of the class was arching up into wheel, you just closed your eyes and pictured yourself in a beautiful expression of the pose?And then maybe one day you’d give a push and up you’d go. Or maybe you never would. The physical accomplishment isn’t the point. The mental accomplishment is.People practice yoga for many different reasons, and certainly there are myriad benefits. One of the reasons I practice is to keep reaching and challenging myself. My teacher, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, teaches us that when you reach for space in your practice and in your body, you actually reach for space in your life. It’s not just metaphorical – it’s actual.You were born a perfect yogieven though your body lacked skills much beyond reflexes. You were in the moment and you did what you could without pushing yourself out of a sense of ego or pride. You reached into your space every single day because you wanted to feel and experience more of the world and yourself.

That never has to stop.

Melissa Mukti Devi Long has been practicing yoga since 1999, and completed her yoga teacher training in 2010 at Kashi Ashram in Sebastian, Florida, under Yoga Master and Guru Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. She teaches Kali Natha Yoga and Prenatal Yoga in Wellington, Florida where she lives with her husband and son.
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