Lessons from the Mat: Doing Versus Receiving Yoga

*This post also appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of YogaLiving Magazine.

Half asleep at 5 AM, I walk across the hall to my teal yoga mat, light blue yoga block, a journal with the word “Balance” on the cover, and my favorite pencil. If you ignore the guest bed in the background (usually covered with random books, bags, adapters, kids clothing, and who knows what else!), or the crib mattress in the corner I was supposed to donate 2 years ago, or the haphazard stacks of books and papers on my desk, the space is a sweet invitation to move, breathe, and just be.

Mostly I embrace the invitation; other times, at that hour in the morning, I begrudgingly accept, and sure enough, I am always glad I did by the end of my practice.

For years, I resisted a home practice. Home just didn’t feel “calm enough.” I also preferred the social benefits of a community class. Even if I didn’t speak a word to another person, being in a group class satisfied my need to feel connected to others. Arriving at the yoga studio was like a giant exhale, a complete letting go that I believed was impossible to experience at home.

If you are like me—a planner who is a little too attached to routine—it’s frustrating when you can’t consistently get to the several weekly yoga classes you scheduled on your mental calendar. Slowly but surely, the “new routine” is not organized around practice; instead you live by a long list of all the “doing” that must get done. Other responsibilities squeeze out your precious mat time, and on those occasions when you do make it to class, that giant exhale never comes. The blissful letting go is replaced with a fierce holding on—holding on to your seat, so to speak, for fear if you let go, you won’t be able to keep up. You will come undone.

Fast forward to my newfound home practice, which was born out of both inspiration from my YogaLife Comprehensive Yoga Therapy peers and the realization that I needed to adjust my attitude toward my practice. Initially, the shift in perspective was related to my inflexibility around practicing at home. If it was “calm” I needed, then it was on me to create it. This meant finding a space and time that was quiet but also did not disrupt household routines, like getting my children ready for school. Even though I had to warm up to the idea of waking at 5 AM, this time of the morning offers the ultimate calm in my home and the world outside my widow. Calm is everywhere I can hear and see.

The next and most profound shift came to me during a morning meditation, after an asana practice. I was seated in a supported hero’s (Virasana) pose. I felt calm and connected to my breath and the ground. All was going according to planned (there’s those plans again!) until the word “doing” (and forms of it) just kept coming: “You’re doing meditation. You’re doing asana. You’re doing this, doing that. You’re doing x, doing y, doing z.” The refrain kept coming. It was like a thunderstorm in my head.

Agitated, I grabbed my journal. What’s all this “doing” I am hearing in my head about? And why now? Interestingly, this exercise in self-study led me to the word “receive.” For years and years, I’ve said: “I do yoga,” or “I’m doing yoga” or “I have to do my practice.” These are common ways to state that you are yoga practitioner, right? Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with these statements or the meaning behind them. However, as I experienced in hero’s pose during meditation, if our practice is one more thing we must do, then it might get lumped on an already lengthy to-do list. As one more thing to check off, our yoga practice becomes rote and we miss out on receiving its gifts.

I journaled about this idea, asking: What would it feel like to come to my mat or cushion to receive instead of do? How would my outlook on my practices shift if I opened to receiving and let go of doing? What if instead of doing yoga, I receive yoga?

As I named the gifts I receive from my yoga practices, I was filled with a renewed sense of purpose for sitting in hero’s pose on my teal mat at the break of dawn in the first place. I also felt a surge of curiosity about what gifts are yet to reveal themselves as I continue to “receive yoga.”

Tomorrow morning, I will receive my practice so that, to the best of my ability, I can do my life with grace, strength, and patience. What gifts will come to you when you receive yoga?