~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Practicing for Us All

January 29, 2013
At first blush, yoga seems like a somewhat self-indulgent practice, especially to the loved ones who have to bear our absence while we practice. Off she goes again, toting her yoga mat and blanket to another class or weekend workshop, leaving us behind to fend for ourselves. And she looks so eager to go!

And maybe, possibly, the first few moments of our practice feel sneakily self-indulgent. Maybe we smile just the tiniest bit as we turn away from all the messiness of our outer worlds: the dirty dishes by the sink, the pile of laundry left on the bed, the homework and piano practice left for someone else to monitor. Maybe we sigh with relief as we realize that for these next lovely breaths, our only job is to turn within, to breathe, to soften, to reclaim our life.

It doesn't take long for us to realize that yoga changes not just our small selves, but the whole world. For when we have reclaimed our inner ease, when we have remembered who we really are through our yoga practice, we return to the world renewed and refreshed. We return with our harsh edges whittled away, with our tenderness restored.

We smile instead of snipe. We say yes instead of no. We find those essential breaths that renew our patience and rekindle our ease. We return home from yoga class bright and huggable again.

I always smile when yoga students confess that while their spouses were initially skeptical of this newfound hobby (Ninety minutes - does it need to be that long?), they have come around after seeing how much sweeter and happier their loved one is when they practice yoga. They see that their lives are better, too.

Who wouldn't prefer to live with a sane and balanced family member instead of a hassled and harried one? (I must confess, I do often think to myself, "Imagine what your lives would be like if your family practiced yoga, too.")

But there's more. It's not just that we're easier to live with, and so our happiness benefits our family. My experience has been that our practice changes our families, and our broader community, too.
We're kinder and more clear-headed, and the recipients of our mercy and tenderness grow a little softer, too. And then those people are kinder to their kids, and their children smile more in school, and then the teacher of those children breathes a sigh of relief, and goes home and bakes brownies for her own kids, and on and on and on.

Isn't that amazing? We contort our bodies into pretzel shapes, we loosen up our breath, and the whole world lightens up. And then we live on a planet that is two ounces saner and 10 watts brighter. While that may seem trifling, any additional sanity and peace we can offer this crazy, mixed-up world feels like progress to me.

If we put our minds to it, we can milk this global benefit of yoga for all it's worth. Recognizing that a few moments on our mats will spill over into the world around us only deepens the positive impact.
Try it. When you step onto your mat, hold your hands to your heart and spend a moment or two offering your practice to the world. Buddhists call this sharing the merit, and they wish that any good that comes from their practice may benefit all beings. I love this simple expression of the understanding of how deeply our hearts and our lives are woven together, of how beautifully our small selves are yoked to the world.

You can even personalize this experience, if you choose. If you know someone who needs a little extra love and support, call their image into your heart and offer your practice to your friend. Invite any goodness you find to spill over into their world, too.

Sometimes I even roll through my practice dedicating individual poses to my loved ones. This turns out to be a powerful way to welcome the whole world onto your mat.

It goes like this: "This backbend is for you, dear son. May its potency and strength bring vibrancy to your life... And this beautiful warrior is for you, my friend who has been suffering so. May it cleanse your body and bring you clarity and ease... And this restorative pose is for all of us. May we all know deep peace and rest."

And just before rising from that beautiful savasana, share the merit one last time. Spend a breath or two contemplating how tightly your life is woven to the greater world, to your loved ones and even perhaps to those you'll never meet.

Offer your practice to the world. Whisper to yourself, "May any good, any wisdom, any love that has been generated through this practice benefit all beings, everywhere."

And then rise up from your mat, filled with faith and love, understanding that you have just practiced yoga on behalf of – and as an offering to - the whole wide world.