Can our Practice be a Refuge?

Dear Friends, Hi.

I spent two weeks on the west coast this summer, in Seattle at a Teen Talking Circles facilitators training and then 10 days of silent retreat at the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation program that I am a part of at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, just outside of San Francisco. During those two weeks, I had some profound healing, and one of the biggest insights coming out of my time was a sense of self-compassion.

Some of what I released in my time away was my compulsive drive for self-improvement. After the retreat, I continue to hold deep intentions for living each moment, and I even have goals for the future, but what changed was that I now have a visceral sense that I am complete. As the Buddha said, "Each and every being, perfect and whole, just as they are, lacking nothing." It seems to me that the only thing that most of us are lacking is the knowledge that we aren't lacking anything!

So what does all of that have to do with our yoga practice? Well, for one thing, we can look into how we approach our practice. When we sit down on our yoga mat, at home or in a group class, how do we feel and what thoughts arise? Are we using yoga to try to improve our bodies or our minds? Are we starting off with a sense that we're not ok how we are, and that we need to change something (or everything)? How does all that grasping for self-improvement feel? I have found myself, less often now than before my retreat, feeling anxious ("How do I compare to others?"), sad and frustrated ("Why can't I be better?"), and fatigued due to constantly trying to be something different than I was.

One of my teachers in California, Anne Cushman, asked us this: Can our yoga practice be a refuge from the stress of our lives? Can we use our practice to care for ourselves, balance our energies, and meet our own needs? While thinking about these questions, I had the vision of a baby learning to walk. We encourage the baby because we are so excited to help them learn something new and liberating. We assume that they will fall down, and we even celebrate when they do fall. Have you ever seen a parent reprimand their baby, learning to walk, "What!? You fell again! What an idiot. You'll never get this!" And yet, if you're like me, you may have reprimanded yourself on the yoga mat in just this way.

Yoga is a journey, just like learning to walk, that leads us into more and more freedom. And we are just as precious and just as tender as a little baby. When we practice yoga without awareness of our preciousness, we keep ourselves trapped in our small self and unable to reach the freedom we long to enjoy. As Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher and author says, "Self-acceptance is at least half of our spiritual path." What would your life be like if you held yourself with the same self-delight in which you would hold a little baby?

So may we all enjoy the remaining weeks of summer in whatever way nourishes our bodies, minds, and hearts, with all the tenderness and self-delight we are able to offer ourselves in this moment.

much love, annie.