A lot of my Yoga Therapy clients get down on themselves for not having a "regular yoga practice", and they blame internal and external circumstances on having that idealized vision of a mindful life in place. Whatever it is, from a daily meditation practice, to getting on the mat more than once or twice a week, it's just not good enough and they share that information with me with more than a little bit of shame in the delivery.
Most of my clients intuitively understand that mindfulness and Yoga will help them, otherwise they wouldn't have given Yoga Therapy a try in the first place. The rewards are hard to pin down, tangible and intangible. I've had clients voice that they felt they could get a better perspective on life and stressors when they had a regular mindfulness or Yoga practice. Sometimes the rewards listed were more vague, such as, "I just feel better", or "I can see the bigger picture".
When we look at the end results of a Yoga or mindfulness practice, rather than the vehicle we use to get there, we can learn to be a little more flexible and self-compassionate, rather than setting goals that might be out of reach, just due to where we are in our lives.
It could be circumstantial (just too busy) or emotional (hard to have the energy to sit quietly for a few minutes). We start with where we are, with what we have. And we take smaller, patient baby steps towards larger life changes.
One could argue that if one just employed "more self-discipline", one could achieve a more rigorous Yoga practice. And that's true, if that is your goal. You can establish a regular daily or weekly Yoga or mindfulness routine with more diligence. But often that's not all that holds us back from making great change. That's why gentle, incremental change is the way to create a lifestyle shift that stands the test of time.
Lately though, I've been feeling like a bit of a fraud myself because if I were to be entirely candid. My current Yoga practice hasn't been on mat or a meditation cushion, lately.
It's being practiced in my relationships with my family.
So what do I mean by this? How can I practice Yoga in this way?
It means that I show up in my relationships and in the way I communicate in the same way that I show up on the mat or the meditation cushion: with mindful awareness around what is occurring both internally for myself, and externally in the environment I'm engaged with.
As we are mindful and aware of our movements or breathing when we practice Yoga poses or settle in for a sit, so I strive for mindfulness when my stepson is feeling angsty and agitated, when my stepdaughter is struggling with her homework, or when my wife is grumpy about the dishes. I strive for stillness in the body of my immediate family.
I breathe through my initial reactions to their emotional sensations and behavior and witness what is arising. I try to cradle my emotions, judgments, and reactions in one hand, and help hold space (if necessary) for those I love. If it's not necessary to hold space for them, I strive to just allow what is occurring with my family without taking it personally or assuming responsibility for affecting change, unless it's necessary.
My children are wise, strong, responsible, emotionally intelligent beings who (usually) intuitively understand right from wrong. Usually, when they encounter a frustration or an obstacle, they only need my attention, affection, and faith in them to overcome something on their own. And if they can't do it on their own, I do my best to model best practices for overcoming it.
My wife is a grown-ass adult who is also smart, strong, wise, responsible, and spiritually aware. She doesn't need me to "fix" anything, generally. Just mindful awareness, affection, trust, and faith in her when she's faltering, afraid, angry, or unsure.
For the last 3.5 years, I have been practicing the Yoga of Relationship with my family because I've had to navigate a total dissolution of my expectations, desires, and fantasies around what having a wife and children actually meant, and what occupying the roles of husband and father meant. I won't even pretend that I'm finished with this particular practice. On the contrary, as I've alternately run (kicking and screaming) from and returned to mindfully abide with my life with them, the personal and spiritual rewards have only become more deep and rich.
I've become exponentially more mindful of my overall communication with others outside of my family unit.
I've become more patient with people overall, from strangers in traffic to my clients, and also close friends.
My faith in humanity as a whole has been renewed.
My compassion for myself and my awareness of my needs for self-care has deepened.
This is by no means a comprehensive account, it's just one of the main ways I've engaged with my Yoga and mindfulness practice in the last few years.
And all of this is to say that if I hadn't had some kind of rigorous, regular practice in the past, I don't think it would have occurred to me to approach my relationships in this way. However, that's what was right for me at the time. And due to my difficulty with compartmentalizing separate aspects of my life, I chose to focus solely on my yoga studies for two years while remaining single and working a low-stress part time job.
So, your mileage may vary.
My point is, start where you are. Right now. If you want to become more mindful, dedicate five minutes to be completely absorbed in the physical experience of something, whether it's filing something, typing code, writing notes, taking a walk, drinking a cup of coffee, whatever.
Notice the sounds, sensations, tastes, smells, and physical experience of being embodied, moving, and breathing. Notice your posture. Stretch. If thoughts, judgments, worries, or emotions occur, simply notice that they're occurring, and let go of the attachment of following them down the rabbit hole. Don't worry, if it's important enough, these things will resurface in your mind and emotional state again.
Keep going back to the moment, and consciously choose when to start and stop your mindfulness practice.
Lasting change doesn't have to happen all at once. It happens one day at a time, or one hour at a time.
One moment at time.