How do we use yoga to engage with the world around us?

by Amanda Steinken

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On some rare days, I find my yoga practice to be easy. I jump out of bed and onto my mat. I am in the flow, letting each breath guide me from pose to pose, from moment to moment. I taste the subtitles of every posture and end my practice in a sweet and savored silence. On these days, I embody the yoga; I radiate strength and presence and joy, and it ripples outward into the world.

On the days when life is easy, the yoga is easy.

But most days, my practice is a little more difficult.  It begins with slower, creakier and more unstable footing. I feel the chaos in the world and within myself, and it seeps onto my mat, where I become distracted and aloof. I find myself more concerned by the time on the clock, the to do list in the other room, or my neighbor’s super cute yoga pants -and where can I get them?- than I am about being engaged in my mindful movement. My thoughts and actions lose intention and become lazy and reactionary.

It is on these days when the last thing I want to do is be mindfully engaged.  These are the days when I’d much rather stay at home, hiding the ugly parts of myself under my covers away from anyone to ever see. These are the times where it is easier to live without thinking about how my actions affect those around me. But it is on these dreary days when it is absolutely essential to roll out of bed and step on the mat; it is on these days when the practice of yoga begins.

Yoga means to yoke or to unite. It is the joining of all our parts that make us whole. Yoga is the union between intentions and actions, body and mind, thoughts and words, effort and ease. It is the harmony between who we are and who we want to be. It is the delicate symbiosis of taking action while allowing things to be.

The time we spend in the studio, after all, is not really even about the poses.  Yoga is not just the handstand, the warrior series, or even the final resting pose.  Our time on the mat is about the residue each pose impresses upon us: whether it be about seeing with a new perspective, realizing our strength, or honoring our need for rest and reflection. Our yoga practice is about developing the skills it takes to be flexible enough to allow the rigidity of discipline while fostering the fluidity of patience and forgiveness.

Our world will never be at peace until we can first cultivate it within ourselves. When we step on our mat, we take the first step to return back to our wholeness. And it is from this state of union that we are able to engage more fully with the world; it is here where we pick up our practices of self-growth and reflection and carry them with us out of the studio and into the world.

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