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The Goal of Yoga (It's not the headstand)

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

At my recent retreat in beautiful Schweibenalp, I was about to teach our last meditation for the weekend; Compassion Meditation. I've been practicing and teaching this meditation for many years and it always seems to be a great way to finish a retreat with a high quality of compassion and self-care.

As I was explaining to my group about the practice of kindness/compassion meditation, I was starting to tear up as I remembered the exact moment I decided to make this type of meditation part of my regular practice. I just gave birth to my daughter, Arielle (who is turning 20 years old this week). Three weeks post-birth, I was looking forward to returning to my yoga practice. I found some maternity pants (the only thing that I could fit into), rolled out my mat and prepared for my first downward dog. Arielle peacefully slept in her infant carrier next to me.

I put my hands on my mat, shoulder-width distance apart, knees hip-width distance apart and then I raised my hips up for my first Downward Dog in months. I closed my eyes and felt my neck and spine release and a wonderful feeling of being in my body. Then, I opened my eyes. I immediately caught glimpse of my belly; which still looked pregnant and puffy, and my sagging skin. Disgusting, I thought. How long until this changes? What if it doesn't go back to my pre-pregnancy belly? My practice of being at ease in my body quickly changed to critical judgment and a practice of being in my head. I looked at my beautiful little Ari, at peace in her chair, and sat down and cried. How could I be so harsh towards myself? I had just created a human being in my belly. The critical, judging mind that I had carried with me for years, was making its voice known...loudly. I remembered this quote (which has been attributed to everyone from Emerson to Lao Tzu):

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.’"

I quickly realized that if I didn't deal with this judging, critical voice in my head, I would risk my daughter emulating these habits in the mind. Passing this down to my beautiful little girl was not an option. So, I signed up for a workshop on compassion meditation and made a commitment to notice this voice, and worked on softening this dialog in my head.

As I was explaining this to my group of 23 women at my retreat, tears of gratitude flowed as I realized how much the volume on this voice has been reduced to hardly a whisper. I have some moments, mostly a humorous curiosity when I see a new change in the texture of my skin or changes in my body with the passing years. But, I don't judge myself if I'm filling out my yoga pants more during the holidays or if I can't physically do the dynamic Ashtanga postures the same as I did years ago. I never say, "I was so bad yesterday" if I have indulged more the day before and I don't shame myself into exercising to burn calories. I enjoy moving my body actively in nature and it's mostly a way to spend time outside catching up with friends and it's a great practice of self-care for my heart. I have a deep level of gratitude for this body that has brought me through these 53 years with a pretty good level of health, adventure and many wonderful moments.

Sometimes I am aware that this voice is still rampant in many men and women who practice yoga. We come to yoga perhaps to become flexible, stronger, or do what we might see on Instagram as a really cool balancing pose, to achieve. Yes, Yoga will make you stronger and more flexible. You might even rock a cool balancing pose. But, the real secret sauce, as Rachel Brathen wrote, is:

"The goal of yoga (it's not the headstand) is to create space where you were once stuck; to unveil the layers of protection you've built around your heart; to appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates; to make peace with who you are. The goal is to Come to your mat to feel, not accomplish"

Shift your focus and your heart will grow.

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