The Mat Race: the unbearable lightness of just being

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As humans, we spend a great deal of time focusing on getting.

We are in a habitual state of trying to get somewhere, something, someone. As fast as humanly possible. And when we can, even faster than that. Of course, it’s never enough. There’s always something else to get.

Fast forward. Rush. Repeat.

Now, let’s add distraction to the mix. Because, come one, you can’t possibly expect us to actually be thinking about what we are doing while we are doing it???!!! iPhones and iPads and iPods, oh my!

I mean think about it. We now have TVs where we can watch  more than one show at a time. When I was growing up we had one TV and one phone line. If I didn’t like the show my parents wanted to watch or someone else was using the phone, well, I would just be SOL. (Not to mention in panic mode because the boy who was supposed to call me wouldn’t be able to get through. No joke, a very serious situation.) The only ‘i’s’ I had to entertain myself with were me, myself and I. iMagine that.

(Yup, I just pulled the “when I was young I had to walk back and forth to school uphill both ways in a blizzard” card.)

Well, I digress…

Yes, we spend a hell of a lot of time doing. Doing with distraction. Apparently it’s what makes the world go round. That and evidently hashtags.

I guess for some that’s fine. Personally, I find it exhausting. Just the idea of having to be in constant “get mode”.

And, that’s when I remember those two little words: Just Be.

If you teach yoga, you have certainly spoken them. If you practice yoga, you have certainly heard them. I mean, unless you live in a cave, you can’t really can’t go out in the world without having come across them at some point on a t-shirt, a tweet or an ad for computers. (Well, actually if you are living in a cave, you most likely are ‘just being’ and wouldn’t be reading this anyway. So bravo, you get it, well done you.)

Anyway…there are, of course, other little phrases just as trendy today that are supposed to help us get a little more chillaxified.

They are, in no particular order:
-Let go.
-Just breathe.
-Just breathe and let go.
-Just breathe, let go and just be. (My personal favorite. Say that to me, and I will be sure to poke my eye out.)

And as yoga teachers, we just love to throw these phrases out there, and then just leave them hang. You know, let…them…go…

Well here’s a newsflash, if simply saying “just be” and “let go” created a mindful soul, we would all have a peaceful existence.

I think we can all agree that we can’t just snap our fingers (or even just take a breath) and let all things go and just be. There’s a little more to it than that.

Enter: Yoga Mat

Now, you see, our practice on the mat is the one place that expects nothing from us. It is one place we don’t have to rush. There’s no place we need to go. Or have to go. Nothing to get. Where we can take the time to be reminded of our true nature of being…a human being.

Well, it should be anyway. If we allow it. We, of course, can be our own worst enemy. As Bryan Kest likes to say, “We bring our crap to yoga, and we turn our yoga to crap.” Leave it to us humans…

Enter: Mat Race

Since we don’t have a convenient on/off switch, it’s very easy to continue the cycle of doing with distraction on the mat.

You know, we are not really paying attention. Kinda just on auto pilot, going through the moves, the poses. Rushing through sun salutations. Racing ahead to the next pose. (Yeah, if you take my class, you know how much I LOVE that one). Muscling and forcing through the practice. All of this brings with it judgment, expectations, ego, goal-oriented focus. In other words, it’s about getting.

Congratulations, your yoga practice has just left the room.

Yeah, it’s really easy to get caught up with all that. Or we could…

Make a conscious decision to use that time to start to break the cycle.

We can make it less about how our pose looks, and make it more about how it   feels.

We can make it about not just being in the pose, but how we get into it, too.

We can take the time to a build a foundation on the perfect combination of steady and calm, instead of trying to skip the small things so we can jump ahead to the big things.

We can slow down and find mindfulness in action, instead of reinforcing our habit of rushing with distraction.

When we start doing that, a funny thing happens along the sun salutation way,
the realization that our yoga practice is bigger than our asana practice.

Enter: Just Being

The difference between being and doing, is the difference between allowing rather than fighting. Acceptance of where we are right now – exactly as is.

And that’s the basic concept of just being.

And trying to practice it on the mat is a good place to start. After all, it is supposed to be a training ground for life. A training ground where we have the luxury (or burden, depending on how you look at it) of no distractions – no phones, no music, no one telling us that we HAVE to do anything. Just the unbearable lightness of sitting with our own crap.

OK, this would be a good place to just breathe…

Breathing. The tool on our yoga mat towards being. But more specifically, paying attention to slowing it down. Then taking the next step, letting the breath determine the pace of our physical practice and where we go in it. If our breath becomes short and choppy, that’s probably a good indication that we need to back off. We are still stuck in the doing. When we pay attention to our breath, really observe it, the mind starts to quiet down a bit and we begin feeling our practice (rather than thinking our practice). The breath is powerful. It is the link to staying present. Our first step to just being.

When we take those first steps, we begin to accept each practice on the mat just as it is.
We stop trying to get some where, and we start just being. Here. Now.
Of course, the hope is that we continue that when we step off our mat.

Enter: Life

Ah, so now this is where things get a bit trickier.

The first step is to understand that there are certain things beyond our control. Just being is not about giving up or the idea that our life is predetermined and nothing we do can change its direction. It’s grasping the difference between what we can change and what we cannot. We can’t control people’s actions or feelings, try as we might. We can’t control all the events and situations that surround us either.

But we can control our own words, actions and behavior. We can stop forcing and fighting our life. And we can stop trying to run away from the uncomfortableness of what our reality might be. Give up the fight and flight.

It’s amazing how much energy is freed when we stop resisting our life. Go ahead, take that great big ridiculous exhale. You know you want to.

Wow, did you feel that? The 100lb weight of judgment and expectations just fell off your back.

All that energy we were wasting on forcing and fighting, just opened up a whole big space called acceptance and allowing. Acceptance of where we are. Allowing the moment as it is.

Feeling lighter? Everyone knows resisting weighs more than allowing. Just sayin’.

Of course, it’s always easier said than done. When we are riding that wave of “things are going our way,” the situation as is seems pretty sweet. Allowing and accepting when things turn to shit, well that’s usually when “just being” hits the yoga studio ceiling fan.

But the universe has a funny kind of rhythm to it. And if we keep focus on the intention behind what we do (why we are doing it), rather than the end goal (the outcome), it all has a way of falling into place.

Now, we might not get everything we want, when we want it. But I will tell you this: We do get what we need, at the right time. It might not be obvious when it’s happening, but everything has a way of unfolding as it needs to.

Just being is bigger than the practice of presence. It’s a complete and utter awareness that the moment you are in is enough. It’s being strong enough to enter each moment with honesty and compassion, but soft enough to relinquish attachment to the outcome.

Enter: A Story

Here’s a little story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down…

I started teaching yoga because it was so life changing for me that I wanted to share it. There was nothing else. I was also lucky – it was before yoga was trendy. No one was really practicing yoga. I had no visions of yogi rock stardom. (That phrase didn’t even exist at the time, and still shouldn’t IMHO.) I didn’t have a grand plan for getting famous. I didn’t buy followers on Facebook. (Well, in all fairness, there was no Facebook. Don’t worry, I won’t start talking about the fact that we only had books made out of paper.) There were certainly no “talent agencies” for yoga instructors to help give the appearance of popularity and help to give a following unearned. I focused on my practice. On learning. I shared what I loved and what I knew to be true for me. And students began to come. I can now look back and see that I am where I am now because I just let it be. Unknowingly, perhaps. But it’s the truth just the same. Nothing was forced, I just allowed it to evolve. And opportunities showed up. Never too soon, and never too late. I can tell you, I never planned on running my own studio. But here I am, almost 20 year later, herding cats. (You studio owners will get that.) All I can say is, thank god I love cats.

You see, some things just can’t be rushed. Time for instance. You can’t rush it, you can’t force it. Our experience and growth comes from time.

Whether it’s our practice on the mat. Or our practice off.

So, to all the yoga students, leave your cellphone at home. Next time you step on your mat, don’t be in such a hurry to get. Pay attention to the little things instead. And build your practice from there. Sure, doing all the “fancier” poses can be fun. But I can tell you this, everything wrong in your life will not suddenly be fixed if you can press yourself up into headstand. Or even grab your toe in triangle pose. I will tell you what might just change your life for the better: focusing on how you go. The practice of slow, the practice of stillness, the practice of the process, the practice of mindfulness in action. Make the small things the big things. And you might just end up living a life less rushed. A life more lived. If that leads to doing a handstand, too, well then bravo to you too. At least your foundation will be solid.

To all the new yoga teachers out there, throw the script away. Stop trying to get somewhere. You can’t force experience. Use each day off your mat as lesson for when you teach those practicing on their mat. Only you can live your life. Use it. Not someone else’s. But remember, you can’t rush it. Teach from where you are at that very moment. As the moment is. Don’t try to make it a different one. Because really, that’s the only one you have. You will find your voice from your heart. And that is more than enough. Your authenticity will be followed. And if you get 50,000 Instagram followers in the course of all that, well that’s awesome, too. And you can be satisfied knowing it will be real.

So, we’ve come to the point where I normally would tie it all together and say something really profound…

Instead I am letting…it…go…

So you can begin to just be…

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