Skill in Action

The other day, we shared an article on Facebook, “How to Keep Your Mind on Your Mat in Yoga.” There were four ideas for how to stay centered:

• Focus on your breath
• Make yourself the priority
• Take a Child’s Pose
• Give yourself a break

We thought these were great ideas, until Ariane suggested an addition to the list: Commitment. “I find the surest way to ‘lose’ my mind in class is to do every asana as deeply as possible, no holding back. The To-Do list fades to nothing when all I do, and really do, is each pose.” She’s right, of course. When you are 100% committed to what you are doing, mental chatter has a way of dissipating on its own. Half-heartedly bend your front knee in Virabhadrasana II, and watch your Monkey Mind chase its tail; bend your front knee to 90°, and those email and phone calls and grocery lists will dim all by themselves…

This won’t come as a surprise, but we think everyone—no matter their size, shape, age, or fitness level—can  use a little yoga. Who doesn’t need time to fine-tune their antenna so it better picks up the signals from their bodies, minds and hearts? That said, we are not about coercing anyone into doing yoga.

Believe it or not, as often as we recommend Yoga Nidra to stressed out friends, or Ashtanga for Beginners to a new student, we mention other modalities that are not, strictly-speaking, yoga. We really believe you can get a taste of the practice without doing downward-facing dog, or reading The Yoga Sutras, or doing things that look from the outside like “yoga.” So yeah, sometimes we tell people to try Pilates instead of Vinyasa, or go on a long bike ride out of the city.

What’s important is figuring out what your “yoga” is. For some, it’s a physical endeavor (cycling, swimming, etc); for others, it’s creative (drawing, baking, tending bees, etc.) Ask any chef or doctor or cab driver about “being in the zone,” and their description will sound a lot like Dharana. So you see, even when people are not technically “doing yoga,” they are doing it. And that’s because any activity that completely absorbs you, brings you satisfaction and triggers a kind of joy feedback loop that makes you lose track of time, is yoga.

“The To-Do list fades to nothing when all I do, and really do, is each pose.”

As Krishna says to Arjuna in the The Bhagavad Gita, yoga is skill in action.