March 2, 2012

“I Stink At This!”

WHY We’re Doing Yoga Matters More Than HOW We’re Doing Yoga.

If you ever need to find us at 8:00 on a Sunday morning, we’re at the Bagel Factory cozied up into our favorite booth. Once upon a time we easily fit into that  booth. Nowadays, however, we need an extra chair at the end of the table because three of us are a whole lot bigger than they used to be. Over the years, as we’ve expanded to overflow our booth, our tab has also grown to keep pace with the kids’ appetites. But that has not deterred our weekly treat of going out to breakfast before church.

Our tradition began as a way to avoid weekly tussles with the kids over going to church. We discovered that no one complained about heading out to breakfast. And once out, getting to church was a no-brainer. We arrive in our pew well-fed and usually laughing over something someone said or did at breakfast. Forty-five minutes less sleep and the cost of breakfast are a small price to pay for avoiding all that fussing and complaining.

You could say that bagels and chocolate milk have come to play a foundational role in our children’s religious formation. Which is why it is a little ironic that my youngest had her first religious “crisis” over her Sunday chocolate milk. At ten years old, she decided to give something up for Lent for the first time this year. And she didn’t go for any of the classic kid cop-outs like giving up homework or broccoli. No, not our girl. She opted in with all her might and gave up chocolate.

When she blithely ordered (and ate) the same meal she orders every single week, the fact that she was drinking chocolate milk didn’t even cross her mind. It certainly didn’t register with me. In fact, I don’t think she put it all together until that night when I asked if staying away from chocolate had been hard. She gasped and then hung her head. “I messed up already,” she moped. “I stink at this.”

Cue religious lesson.

Once I got her calmed down, we sat down and talked about the meaning behind a Lenten sacrifice. Each time she wanted chocolate or chose not to eat chocolate was simply a chance to think about God. God, I told her, loves her and wants her to be closer to Him. Each time she focuses on Him (even if it’s just a second) pleases Him. I wanted her to understand that whether she eats chocolate or not is irrelevant to God. Whether she is successful at maintaining her Lenten sacrifice or stinks at it, is not the point. Her sacrifice is just a tool to help her stay God-focused during Lent. That’s a lot to absorb — even when you’re a little older than ten.

In  fact, I get tangled up with this notion on a regular basis with my yoga practice. My yoga, like my daughter’s Lenten sacrifice, is a tool with a higher, spiritual purpose. I practice to achieve a quiet state of mind. I practice to learn to focus more attentively on the moments that make up each of my days. I practice to remember who I really am. I practice to re-connect with my spiritual nature and to spend (at least) a little time each day focused on God.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve felt like echoing my daughter’s words on my mat – “I messed up. I stink at this.” Perhaps I’ve been unable to figure out a new, challenging stretch. Or perhaps I spent more time falling out of a balancing pose than I was actually in it. Or perhaps, despite my best intentions, I managed to spend an entire hour on my mat daydreaming or list making. Because the work of my yoga practice is so immediate and so hard, it’s easy to forget that the yoga postures are not why I set aside time each day to do yoga. When this happens, I’m allowing the practice itself to obscure my actual purpose.

Often, I don’t figure this out until hours after I’ve left my mat. On these days, all is not lost. I still receive the physical gifts of the practice. My muscles still get stretched. My crooked body still gets re-balanced. An hour or more of deep breathing, even with a hoppy mind, is restorative and rejuvenating. No matter how late it comes, my realization that I’ve been distracted from the higher purpose of the practice is still an opportunity to reconnect with the real reasons I do yoga.

When I am on my game, however, I can remember in the act that all of the movement, the sweat, and the breathing are simply ways to balance my body, settle my mind and open my heart so I can live more like the person I was created to be. These days are absolutely the best. These are the pinnacle practices that keep me coming back day after day, year after year. On these days, I know through and through that it doesn’t matter if I can touch my toes or lift into a backbend. What matters is that every time I try is a chance to lift my focus beyond the physical to the spiritual.

The only way you can “stink” at yoga is to let your “bad days,” inabilities and mistakes keep you from coming back to try again. And this is what I really wanted my daughter to understand. It’s taken me years to figure out that yoga is not about perfecting postures or the practice. I’m hoping her Lenten adventures will lead her closer to the same understanding in just a few weeks. Certainly her chocolate milk “slip up” led to a powerful learning moment – for both mother and child.


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