Contemplative practices come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve turned to and engaged many of them– particularly journaling, meditation, dance, and ritual. But yoga has been “my practice” for over a decade. And it has shaped my life and lived experience in ways not always touted by mass-media.
I call the habit that yoga developed in me “notice, breathe, choose.” Due to this habit, I’m more aware of decisions I make. I have better emotional regulation than I did ten years ago. The incessant brain-chatter—a non-stop internal narrative I lived with for decades—has ceased.
Because I tend to both live in my head and get caught up in other people’s energy, I can lose track of my own desires and miss cues from my body and mind. A yoga practice has trained my mind to notice: to observe passively without narrative or judgement. It has trained me to breathe: to check in with my body to notice where the struggle is. And it has given me permission to choose whether to move towards challenge or to back away.
Initially I had been drawn to physically challenging, vigorous yoga classes. Yes, these experiences increased my strength, flexibility and balance. But, these classes (unexpectedly) introduced me to my ego, which took pride in staying in poses a long time, in my ability to push my edges and boundaries.
Once I noticed myself pushing on the mat, I discovered the persistent tendency I had for moving towards challenge in other realms of my life. This practice helped me see how the type-A, mildly competitive tendencies that were playing out in the yoga practice were also causing all kinds of unnecessary stress in my work-life. I discovered the choice to stop. And I did.
So now I don’t find myself deep in spirals of frustration or anger nearly as often as I used to. I notice sooner—“Uh oh, something’s happening!” I check in with my breath. This could mean taking a three-second pause or a three-day reflection period. When I’m ready, I reclaim my agency and choose. Do I want to move towards this challenge? Or is it time to step away?
As to quieting the monkey-mind: The practice of again and again recalling a wandering mind works. In those early yoga classes I’d be in downward-facing dog pose, but I wasn’t doing yoga. I was making a shopping list, planning the next article, constructing counter-arguments to a recent nasty conversation… My body was on the mat but my mind was in the past or the future.
We all have our own reasons for fleeing from the present moment, for staying disembodied, for keeping the mind entangled in the past or future. For me, my ongoing inner-narrative reassured me that I was smart and important.
So how did I drop that story? Practice! It really is like training a puppy. Eventually, if you’re diligent, they stop peeing in the house! Eventually, my mind became a tool I could use rather than something that distracted me and stressed me out. 🙂
In yogic philosophy, the human experience is simply and elegantly the interplay of energy and consciousness. In daily life I sometimes find my energy and consciousness split or divided, each engaged with its own task: I’m driving and talking. Eating and scrolling.
The physical practice of hatha yoga is one way for my energy and consciousness to be in the same place at the same time. It’s a feeling beyond description. If I had to describe it, I’d say it feels like being fully alive.