Listening to Joy>
Words by : Sarah Waggener
June 12, 2019
I was recently talking to a therapist friend and telling her about my tendency to overwork myself. I have several jobs and always seem to be involved in different projects, scheduling up every bit of free time. She smiled and said to me gently, well that’s convenient when you’re always so busy cause then you never really have to be where you’re at. It really made me think about how I really was always thinking on to the next thing, cutting conversations short, and allowing myself to operate on a generally frantic frequency, which really doesn’t make me happy. This tendency has become so prevalent in our Western society, and even when we aren’t busy with work or people in person, we are busying our mind with emails and social media. However, each morning when we step on our mat, we give ourselves the opportunity to be right where we are in that moment. It isn’t an escape, it’s the bliss of embodiment. We allow ourselves the satisfaction in the simplicity of feeling our feet in the ground, the length of our spine, the softness of the light in the room, and the rise and fall of our breath. When we allow ourselves these moments to connect with simple joys, all of the chitter chatter of life falls away and even that brief moment of respite is such a relief. The noise of life is not a bad thing, but stepping out of it and into your own breath as a practice, gives you more of a non reactionary and strong foundation to move and react from. So in this way, our yoga practice will lead us to joy.
I’ve been reading Eddie Stern’s book, One Simple Thing, and it has me thinking on the genius of the system of yoga and how it connects us to our own tender selves. I love the simplicity of the idea of yoga practice, as well as the complexity of its subtleties. There are so many factors at work when we practice, when we get on our mats and let ourselves be absorbed into the moment. We give ourselves permission to breathe and to listen to the beauty and stillness in that breath. We take up space, communicate and commune without words. It’s a connection to ourselves and others that really only seems to be found when we concentrate our efforts on some shared goal, even if we are sometimes unsure of what that goal is.
For me, that goal has always been joy, one that goes beyond the endorphin high we get when we exercise or when we know we’re doing something good for ourselves. It’s the deep, lasting joy that comes from being truly in the present moment. I have experienced the power of concentration and the satisfaction that comes with focus in other outlets before I started yoga. I grew up as a ballet dancer, and got a taste of it early.As a teenager, ballet lifted me out of my own silly thoughts and stresses. It connected me with something bigger than myself, and I remember that early experience of presence feeling like such a relief. Later in college, I experienced that same blissful presence in working in the art studio. I loved being in the same room with people in total silence, alone but together, concentrating on our work. Then as an adult I found circus arts, and fell in love with the subtlety of movement to master a skill, as well as the power of bodily expression and breath. While all of those things gave me (and still give me!) the creative satisfaction and sweetness that I have also found in yoga, nothing else that has given me the steadiness and ability to be with myself quite like yoga has, and for me that is the key to joy.
We have all at least glimpsed into what I have been describing,
but what are some practical ways to cultivate this daily practice in our lives?
1. Find a studio where you feel supported and inspired or create a space for yourself. Make a small space that is only ever used for yoga or meditation and practice (at least sometimes) with friends. It’s good to have people around you to help keep you in the moment.
2. Bring it back to the breath. If you are having a day where you find it hard to still your mind or connect to your breath, just have a seat and take some rounds of full, deep, luxurious inhales and exhales. Treat your breath like a delicacy. What a gift it is to let those lungs expand! After sitting like this for a few minutes, you may find you’re able to move into your practice with more steadiness.
3. Practice kindness to yourself when you practice! Let yourself go deep when your body lets you, but never make yourself feel guilty that you’re not doing enough, or that you “should” be doing this or that in order to have a full practice. All we are trying to accomplish with our practice is ease in our breath and focusing our attention for as long as we can catch it (and the trying is really the only part that matters),
I hope that today you will enjoy this body we’ve been given, and relish every breath and every moment!
I highly suggest reading Eddie Sterns, One Simple Thing : A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How it can Transform Your Life, if you are interested in the science behind yoga practice! It simplifies a lot of complex concepts without dumbing it down, and it’s a fascinating read!
“…yoga is not about screwing the mind into a fixed state of focus, or the body into a complicated pose; it is about calmness and filling the mind with a natural state of goodness. It is a natural, underlying characteristic that has been covered up by too much thinking.” -from, One Simple Thing