When I studied dance full-time, I would make sure to always be slightly early in the music to show my teachers that I remembered our exercises and knew the steps. Later on, I brought this mentality with me into the yoga studio.
For a long time when I practiced, I would jump into the pose before the teacher had instructed me to get there. Now I see the same pattern with a lot of students in the classes I facilitate—practitioners who, as soon as they understand where we’re going or which asana (yoga pose) we’re preparing for, jump right to the end expression of the pose.
I don’t blame them at all, and I’m not even sure if we’re wrong in doing this. But it is a great reflection on how the society that we live in dictates how we should move ahead: fast, always forward.
I read quotes like, “Set big goals and don’t be happy until you reach them,” or, “Always show people that you know what you’re doing.” With the end goal being: get results fast—no matter how it affects your personal, mental, and spiritual life—and you’ll receive praise.
Our society operates with such a sense of urgency. The manner in which we travel doesn’t seem to matter at all; all that matters is reaching the end goal. It’s like we’re constantly searching for something that’s far away and when we get there, we just replace what we’re reaching for with something new.
However, yoga is not about the end expression of a pose, or the result of meditation, or how we may feel after a class. It’s about how we move the body, how we connect our mind to the present moment.
It’s about how we walk through our life here and now—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
It’s about what we encounter on the way, whether it’s positive or negative, good or bad, happy or sad, and how we embrace that.
To give light to this idea, I try to instruct students to reach a pose from where they are at in the present moment so our yoga practice can do what it is here to do: to teach us something about the life we’re living. To make us realize that if we’re going in, full speed ahead, without even noticing the trees on the side of the road, then we’re not living in the present.
Take, for example, vrksasana (tree pose), where we switch our weight from two feet to one foot, placing the lifted foot’s heel toward the inside of the standing leg with toes still on the floor. This is a way to first establish balance, to make the mind ready for balancing on one leg—if that feels right in that moment.
And if the balance feels good, the student can slide the working foot up on the inside of the calf of the balancing leg and either stay there or go back down, again, depending on how the body feels in that moment. If the student feels a calling to continue all the way up so that the foot is placed on the inside of the standing leg’s thigh, the student may of course do so—only to figure out if this is where the body wants to go on a particular day or not.
Ideally, this would be a journey the mind and the physical body travel on together, looking inward and feeling every step of the way.
What happens when we’re going straight for the end expression of the pose is that we often struggle with the balance and the focus shifts a little around the room. Sometimes, I see that the student relaxes here—as if a goal has been reached—making it even harder for the body to find support. The connection is then often lost, whereas if we can keep the connection from the beginning, we might be better off noticing what we really need to do to keep the balance.
This can all be translated into our everyday life. So many of us travel through our days always thinking about the next step: what we’ll cook for dinner, what we’ll do on the weekend, or where we’ll take our next vacation. We set goals and imagine how we’ll feel when we get there. Or we might be stuck in the past, thinking about that conversation we had earlier, going through it in detail—worrying that we were misunderstood.
Maybe, if it’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining for the first time in weeks, we’ll stop and lift our gaze toward the sky and feel how blessed we are to see the sun again. But what about those moments in between? What about when the sky is grey and all we want is to get in from the rain?
Do we live life with gaps, jumping between moments instead of enjoying the life that happens in between as well?
The practice of mindfulness teaches us that the most important task is the one we are doing right now. For example, doing the dishes as if it is one of life’s most advanced duties, fully emerging ourselves in the art of cleaning our plates and spoons. Of course, today, many of us reading this have dishwashers, so we have to find other chores that we can stay truly present in doing—perhaps the way we travel into tree pose.
Because life is truly a journey, and we have to enjoy all of it—staying fully present with what is.
Because life is not what happened last week, nor what will happen tomorrow.
Life is right now. As John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So don’t invite busyness into your life by thinking about your next move.
Stay busy by enjoying this very moment—whether you’re sitting in traffic, walking around a crowded grocery store, or sitting in yoga class.
Stay open to the process by never anticipating the outcome or what the next step might be.
Author: Theresé Täckenström
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis