As a former competitive runner, I know what it is like to train hard physically. In peak season, I ran 70, 80, 90 miles per week. In addition, there were pool work-outs and I did all kinds of exercises in the gym using my own bodyweight to strengthen my upper body and core. It was a mind over matter approach. It didn't matter if I felt stiff or tired or sore, the encouragement was to lace up my shoes and go. My coaches at McGill and at Middlebury were both former Olympians and they knew what it meant to condition the body to perform on race day. It was a process that I found at times exhilarating, at times grueling, at times meditative. I loved every second of it. I got to travel to many beautiful places and meet wonderful people. I am so grateful that I had this experience.
That was over 15 years ago. At a certain point, this kind of mind over matter approach stopped working for me. It became brittle to my spirit and I burned out. And for ten years, I didn't do regular exercise of any kind except working in the garden and playing tennis here and there on the weekends.
Then I found vinyasa yoga. And even though it was intensely physical, it was an invitation to turn my old way of thinking on its head and to cultivate instead a deep quality of listening. It became a daily opportunity to bring mind and matter into harmony through breath.
I am happiest when I get to practice 12-14 hours per week. But for the last three months, I've managed barely half of that and my ego has been squirming like crazy! My ego gets hooked on the externals - having a lean, svelte body, being able to do certain postures or transitions, witnessing tangible increases in flexibility, etc. My ego tells me that I am "less than" when I do not look or cannot perform a certain way. And it distorts and warps the real purpose of my practice which can be summed up by the following words: "Thy will, not mine, be done."
Yoga is not a performance art. It is an ancient healing art. My practice is the opportunity I get each and every day to explore how I am put together physically, mentally and spiritually. Ultimately, my practice is a conversation with God. But when my ego is in charge, I'm doing all the talking! And there is no real joy or sense of discovery. When I listen and trust, I am constantly surprised by what happens on my mat and deeply nourished by my practice.
These days I spend most of my time and energy working with other people and I have far less time and energy for myself than I had grown accustomed to over the last three years. It is a big transition and my ego is taking a major pummeling. But my heart is full. Funny how that works, isn't it? I'm being asked to loosen my grip and trust the seasons of life. It's an uncomfortable and exciting time that is forcing me to become softer and more compassionate with myself and changing me as a teacher.