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January 28, 2014

In Search of a Mindful Practice. ~ Laura Stamm

How do we keep ourselves safe without becoming afraid? How do we become mindful without becoming fearful?

In yoga, we often hear things like “take risk,” “challenge yourself to go deeper,” and “the mind gives out before the body” alongside things like “listen to your body” and “practice mindfulness.”

So, am I supposed to push beyond what my mind is telling me to do? Or am I supposed to pay attention to what my mind is telling me about my body?

While I think that both of these attitudes are incredibly important, and not mutually exclusive, I’m not sure we spend a lot of time talking about how they work together.

After my most recent experiences with nagging hip pain, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to practice in a way that’s safe for my body but still challenges me. In other words, how can I continue to build my practice without exacerbating my discomfort?

While attempting to develop a safe practice, I’ve noticed that I have the tendency to give into fear and stop practicing entirely (despite experts’ encouragement to continue a mindful practice).

I know that fear takes over for me because it’s hard for me to “listen to my body.” I’ve heard this phrase over and over again in yoga classes, and while I could regurgitate various explanations of it ad nauseam, I have a hard time enacting that knowledge in my own practice.

I go to class with the intention of listening to my body, but as soon as I’m flowing and the instructor calls out one of my favorite poses, I’m gone. I find myself entering the pose and thinking about it later. I only realize I’ve pushed too far once I’ve already done it.

Add my dedication to tapas (willingness to endure intensity for the sake of transformation) to my eagerness to practice, and you have a recipe for disaster.

But instead of becoming fearful after pushing too far, I’m trying to learn from it. I’m currently trying to figure out how I can reconcile chance and safety to create a mindful practice.

As I struggle to find balance in my asana practice, I realize how often I struggle to manage mindfulness and fear off my mat.

Throughout my life, I’ve swung rapidly between fearful inaction and disastrous bravery. I love the idea of taking risks, but I’m not very good at it. By that, I don’t mean that I don’t take risks—I do, but they’re not well calculated ones.

While I know that I’ve learned more from my impulsive “mistakes” than any of the chances I never took, I see no reason to continue this pattern.

Our misguided risks are valuable only if we can learn where things went wrong, and where things could’ve gone better. As I seek to learn from my experiences of pushing myself too far on the mat, I aspire to do so off the mat as well.

I’m learning that my mat gives me a beautiful place to practice taking chances, but it also gives me a place to exercise caution.

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Assistant Editor: Daniel Garcia/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Leo Prieto/elephant journal archives

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Laura Stamm