I came back yesterday afternoon from the greatest weekend retreat I could have hoped for – we went to Spa Eastman, a fantastic place to unwind and reconnect with yourself and the peace in and all around you. Our group was 22 people strong, some of whom were not students of Luna Yoga but had heard about the retreat and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to practice in such a pampering environment. We were there for less than 48 hours, and when it came time to leave, every one of us felt completely recharged and in disbelief that what had felt like 7 days was only a matter of hours.
The day we got there we had an evening class with a soft practice and we each got the opportunity to introduce ourselves and share why we were attending the retreat, indirectly setting our intention for the weekend. Most of us had come to take care of ourselves, especially those who spent their time taking care of others in their daily lives. Some people were there to indulge in all the spa treatments that we offered, and others were there to experience their first retreat, to find out what it was all about.
As we were working the introductions person-by-person, I noticed that many of us mentioned how long we had been practicing yoga, and usually added “off and on” to the end of their sentence. It immediately resonated with me, as I’ve been practicing for 10 years now, “off-and-on”, and I had somewhat of an epiphany when I kept hearing people use that expression.
My early history with yoga saw me attending classes for a couple of sessions, then veering away from it for a couple more. I’d always find myself back in class within months, and I remember discussing it with my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky. She told me that the path of yoga is a winding one, and that I’d always come back to that path, regardless of the events that were going on in my life that drew my focus away from my practice. And what events they ended up being and continue to be! My pattern used to involve being pulled away from yoga when stressful and traumatic events unraveled around me. It first happened in 2001 when my friend Chantal Vincelli died in the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11. It happened when my grandmother passed away. It happened when my partner’s apartment building burned down, as well as when I had to euthanize one of my dogs. As these events occurred, I would find myself calling Joan to explain why I wasn’t in class, and after years of this pattern repeating itself, Joan had the compassion and tact to suggest that it was perhaps in these moments that I needed my practice the most. I’ve never forgotten those words. And they’ve since saved me the anguish and anxiety that I was used to letting in during moments of shock and loss. And it was these exact words that have kept me “on” ever since (it also struck me how the term “off-and-on” could apply to “on-and-off the mat”, which was exactly what we were all referring to in our introductions this weekend).
Very few of us can truthfully say that we’ve been doing any one thing consistently for years without small interruptions or small tears in our realities. We are so complex as individuals, and even more so as a collective group of individuals, and so it is inevitable that our paths end up following a (hopefully) long, winding road. We are never only one thing. We may wear many hats and play many roles, but even the sum total of those roles don’t even begin to encompass our complexity, and they certainly don’t define who we are (they barely define what we do). As you know, I’m a big fan of giving the best I can on any given day, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, my best will always change, from minute to minute, day to day. Only through applying what Joan had suggested to me did I find that I was indeed a calmer, more rational person when things seemed to go haywire around me. Only then did my pattern change. I now find myself “off” the mat less frequently, especially given the turn my path has taken, which isn’t to say that what used to lead me astray won’t do so in the future. It simply means I’m more aware of it and have the tools to help myself see those events as happening in my environment, but not necessarily to me. To see the events as temporary fluctuations, however real and horrible they may be. To keep my focus on the unwavering permanence that we are all derived from and that we all share. So if we come and go on our yogic paths, we’re nonetheless
still on our paths, where we should be and we shouldn’t worry about it or reprimand ourselves for not being disciplined enough. After all, practicing yoga isn’t only about being “on the mat”.
Let me know what you think 🙂
Hi Bram – I always feel relieved that I’m not alone when I hear others describe their practice as “off-and-on” because I’m also part of the 10 years off-and-on crowd, so that resonated with me too. Sometimes I feel bad that my practice hasn’t attained some kind of “deeper” level after all this time, but I also figure it’ll happen when it’s meant to happen. Like you say, we’re still on our paths. Anyway, just wanted to say that I’m enjoy the blog! Keep it up! 🙂
Bram!!! Love reading you!!! I gives me a time to reflect…what does it mean to practice yoga, what is it? Often, it is only seen as a practice on the mat… Actually, it takes many forms, all forms. In being away from the mat intentionally, which I did lately to translate that I did not need to practice because I had to, I wanted to go back to I want to, and I needed to know why. Also, what are the other forms of yoga practices that inspire me beside the mat asana practice?
I found reading to be very insigntful, movies, biking, swimming, friends, family…well, actually everything I love to do – which is anything I do (add giggling)! For the other forms of yoga practices, chanting is to me the best to balance energy & emotions. I have a deeper perspective of why I practice asana, to purify my body emotionally & physically, to increase my energy, and to have a strong body…actually it’s fun and challenging.
I am not saying anything new, I just needed to real why I did it or why not?
Much love Bram!