Karoline Barwinski

A practice for life

Karoline Barwinski
A practice for life

In response to her saying, "I'm heading to my practice.", a friend's husband, replied facetiously: "What are you practicing towards?"  She was referring to her ashtanga yoga practice. I loved this exchange and found so much truth and humor in it because yoga is a practice, but we don't practice yoga to be "good" at yoga, or for a performance, or award, we practice for the sake of the ritual - for the steadiness of the breath, for the quiet mind, for experiencing feeling in our body.  Yoga practice, is practice for life.  But sometimes "life" gets in the way of our "practice" - we get injured, we get pregnant, have a baby, etc. - so what do we do when such things get in the way of our commitment and love of yoga practice?

It took me years of trying all kinds of yoga styles and going to all kinds of yoga classes before I found Mysore style ashtanga yoga.  Ashtanga yoga is very ritualistic.  We practice 6 days a week, except on moon days (and except when we women are on our moon cycles.)  It's a style that's also typically practiced in the morning.  This is when my body is at it's stiffest, but when my mind is at it's clearest.  The uplifting energy of the sunrise also offers energy to the practitioner.  No wonder "sun salutations" are called what they are.  We salute the sun and the new day.  Practicing in the morning offers a slow build up of energy and excitement for the day.  

Since getting pregnant and then having my son, I've had to practice acceptance that I may not get to my mind some days.  When I was pregnant I didn't practice as much or as vigorously during the first trimester or toward the end of my pregnancy.  Now that we have a little person who likes to wake up early and still feeds at night, I haven't had my full ashtanga practice since I had been able to come back to physical exercise postpartum.  There were days when I was frustrated that I couldn't get to my mat - my body NEEDS yoga and movement.  I feel so much better all day if I get to practice.  I worried that my muscles would atrophy - really, Karolina?!,  - that I'd lose the flexibility that I gained, that I wasn't going to be a good yoga teacher if I couldn't do certain poses.  But I realized the practice now is non-attachment to yoga.  The practice now is trust that change is the only constant and that everything is temporary.  The practice now is acceptance.  The practice always is remaining equanimous.  Life with my son is my practice right now and I love the opportunity to embrace this fortitude. 

So just like life, yoga is not something we do once, in a while.  We make it a ritual.  It becomes part of our life, but then we learn to let it go when our life circumstance shift.   It's with me every morning, whether I get to do my full yoga sequence, just a few sun salutations, or revel in the grace of waking up next to the two loves of my life knowing that the few extra minutes of rest is what I needed that day.  

Yoga is union.  It's he union of our mind and body.  Union of our thoughts with our actions.  Union with our loved ones.  Through the practice of yoga we become more mindful, engaged, present, and peaceful human beings.  It doesn't happen overnight.  It also doesn't happen if we just do it every once in a while or inconsistently.  Sometimes, to truly know yoga, we need to let it go and realize that the physical practice is not everything.  That whatever happens creates an even stronger bond with yoga.  We learn to practice more safely (if we get injured) and we get to know ourselves better.  When we do come back to our practice, it is all the more beautiful because we've learned to go with the flow.  

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Do you have a yoga practice?  Have you found that at times you're overcommitted to it?  What does it feel like to let it go and let it come back to you when your body is ready again?