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January 21, 2016

Real Yoga Happens Off the Mat: How I Learned to Love Chopping Vegetables.

Authors Own

I’ve always been clumsy with knives. When a recipe calls for diced or sliced or small bits of anything, I cringe.

I’ve been a yoga instructor for over 10 years. I used to have a very dedicated daily practice: 30 to 60 minutes of yoga straight out of bed and the same later in the afternoon or just before bed. The asana (posture) practice opened my body and pushed me to deeper edges in my mind and my heart.

Like layers of an onion, each time I practice I feel more my authentic self.

Fast forward to four and a half years ago and the birth of a beautiful baby girl who transformed my life and shifted my practice. Motherhood has essentially up-leveled my yoga practice. My on the mat times are few and far between. Instead, I’m living and breathing my yoga by bringing that same on the mat mindfulness into my everyday life.

In essence, that is what yoga is meant to be: a way of life.

Life can be challenging. Just like an asana we find challenging on the mat, life presents us with moments that push us to our edges—whether emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. Edges are real; we all have them.

One of my edges is cutting vegetables.

Recently, I was standing at the kitchen counter cutting onions while my four-year-old played on the floor with her dolls. She asked me a question and—knife in hand—I turned around to answer, mid-cut. With a quick flick of the knife, I diced my thumb right through the nail—instead of the onion.

Blood everywhere, I freaked and grabbed a paper towel and rubber band, making a quick tourniquet.

A visit to urgent care told me I didn’t need stitches—this time. Instead, the nail would eventually fall off, and all would be well.

Well, I didn’t slice and dice for quite some time after that. On two past occasions already I’ve had to get stitches. So, I’ve taken to using the food processor for all my small chopping fancies.

However, on my recent move the top to my food processor disappeared. While I have cursed this happening for months, I now see it as a blessing, goading me to find a love for one of my biggest dislikes: chopping food into small bits.

Just as I’ve met my edge in the kitchen, I have also met it on the mat—over and over again. My biggest edge happened in trikonasana (triangle pose). With my years of tight shoulders and upper back tension, this pose really worked into my chronic holding spots, forcing stuff to release—deeply held muscular tightness, along with mental stress and emotional holding. I’ll be honest, in the beginning years of my practice, I avoided the pose because the edges I met with were physically and emotionally uncomfortable.

Trikonasana brought up so much aversion in me, that I wanted to go and chop vegetables instead!

Then one day I read a book called The Lotus and the Stars: The Way of Astro-Yoga, that offered asanas for your horoscope sign. I wove these asanas into my own practice to align with my chart.

The Cancer (my sun sign) and Gemini (my moon sign) poses resonated with me, but the Sagittarius (my rising sign) poses, which were very angular in form, offered me a challenge.

In a moment of inspiration and perhaps inner courage, with the book in front of my mat, I embraced triangle pose with all of my heart and met my edge with gusto. It felt like jumping into what I thought to be a pool of icy water and realizing, in that moment of impact where my skin hits the water, that it wasn’t icy at all.

Trikonasana was the asana that saved me. That old saying, “where you resist, persist,” rang true for me and continues to do so in my practice. You see, I met an edge—a deep one—in that asana, which re-worked my spine.

When I started practicing yoga, I was beginning to developed a rounded spine. As a taller-than-average woman (five foot seven), I often hunched my shoulders, where I also carried an inordinate amount of tension. Needless to say, I grew an inch after practicing triangle and revolved triangle consistently for many months. My rounded shoulders opened up, my heart baring itself proudly to the world, not afraid to shine.

Now, standing tall at five foot eight, I tell that story to my students so they can understand what it is to meet our edge—or our resistance—on the mat.

After over 15 years of practice, I understand that the real yoga is off the mat.

I don’t need a long asana practice anymore. My practice is taking that mindset that I developed on the mat with me into my everyday life.

In essence, life is one long yoga pose.

We are here, in this moment, breathing and noticing our bodies, minds and hearts and how they are responding. And in any given moment we can choose how we meet ourselves—with compassion, aversion or something in between.

The real yoga comes when an edge is met. It is when we meet those edges that we face the asana that is life. Will we be present with love, or will we shrink and run away in fear?

So, tonight as I returned from a walk in the woods and felt hunger pangs, I met them by pulling out vegetables from my fridge and some grain cereal from my cupboard. Collards, kale, minced garlic and ginger—and, oh yes, carrots!

The carrots were my edge. I have resisted putting them into my meals lately for the sheer reason of resisting the knife. I met that resistance with compassion and pulled out two small organic carrots from the veggie drawer. I washed them and laid them out on my cutting board, grabbing a serrated knife and took a deep breath.

I’m going to do this with mindfulness. I’m going to love this. I said to myself as I curled my fingers on the hand holding my carrot, like my sous chef friend taught me to do.

Chop, chop, chop. I smile.

This isn’t so bad.

Chop, chop, chop.

Okay, that was kind of enjoyable.

Maybe I won’t become a master chef, but I will meet future chopping and dicing instructions in recipes with grace.

The knife has taught me how to become a bit more present in the moment. And for that, I feel thankful.

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Relephant Reads:

3 Ways to Find Your Flow (On & Off the Mat).

How I live Yoga On & Off the Mat.

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Author: Sarah Lamb

Apprentice Editor: Jaimee Guenther / Editor: Toby Israel

Images: Author’s Own / Pam Loves Pie/Flickr

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