Recently, I attended a small local meditation gathering where the theme for the evening’s practice was seeing the good in others and ourselves. At first, this seemed like an easy concept to contemplate. After all, I don’t think of myself or others as being “bad”, maybe we make unskillful choices but we aren’t bad by nature. When I dig a little deeper into my thoughts, I’m not sure I always act from the place of believing in everyone’s basic goodness. What about my inner critic, and my judgements of people and their actions or beliefs?

This got me thinking about ways to practice seeing the good. Since I’m a yoga teacher and student, my first thought was “how do I practice this on the mat and in my teaching”? 

Most yoga classes focus on the physical body. Often yoga teachers are trained to look for where a student is lacking – correcting alignment and pointing out where the body is less flexibility or has weakness. To a certain degree that has its place. However, yoga is more than just the physical body. If emphasizing performance is overdone or not placed in a larger context and we spend all our time on the mat critiquing our poses, it actually prevents us from being in a true state of yoga. 

Yoga is a wide field of study and is defined in many ways. There are two definitions that I like the most. One comes from the Bhagavad Gita and the other is from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as skillful action. Learning to see basic goodness is a skill. The definition of yoga in the Sutras is roughly translated as “ceasing the fluctuations of the mind”. If our mind is constantly judging ourselves and others, then it is not steady. Constantly focusing on external actions becomes one more way to keep the mind busy and miss out on resting in basic goodness.

When I reflect on what I hope my students gain from practicing yoga, reducing the busyness of the mind, and choosing skillful actions are two that come to mind. I also think it’s important to celebrate what we do right, and remember our basic goodness and the goodness of others.

Our local radio station has a segment every other week called Tips for Healthy Living. I recently went to KTNA and had an on-air conversation about the benefits and challenges of self care. It can be especially hard to maintain a routine during the Alaska summertime. But it’s worth the effort and you can do it!

If you’re interested in some “tips”,  listen to my interview with Holly Stinson. And if you have some tips of your own, let me know. You might just end up on the radio.

Last week in the Thursday night Inversion Series we practiced supported shoulderstand. Click here if you’d like to check out Jason Crandall’s sequence for warming up for shoulderstand. This inversion is one of the classics. It’s also one of the poses that’s caused me the most struggle. Over the years, I’ve used more blankets, less blankets, had my arms strapped, set up at the wall and tried just about every variation of shoulderstand I could find. All in the hopes of making it more comfortable. Some of those props did help. But what helped me the most was not giving up. And practice, practice, practice.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to explore inversions in all of my classes. Inversions are safe and accessible for most able bodied students, and alternatives and variations exist for students with physical limitations. There are some cautions and considerations that need to be understood before going upside down and it’s always best to learn inversions from a qualified teacher. The benefits of inversions include a change of perspective, overcoming fear, core stability, and reversing the body’s relationship to gravity. And they’re fun! So I encourage you to come to class and give them a try.

Transitions are a fundamental part of life. Some are obvious, like graduating from high school, and some are more subtle, like the pause between the inhale and exhale. For the next month or so in my classes I’ll be teaching how to stay present during the transitions between poses and the transitions that turn us upside down (think getting into inversions like headstand).

When we focus our attention on the actions that take us from one moment to the next, we create space for awareness. Just like a graduation ceremony, the act of observing our transitions gives us time to reflect on what came before the present moment and what’s possible in the next one. The future can be tomorrow or the following exhale or the choice of where to place our feet.

Remaining present is a tricky business. We can’t orchestrate our every movement or thought. We do need some things to be automatic. It would be cumbersome to have to think about each footstep. But to be on auto pilot all the time doesn’t serve us either.

Practicing yoga provides an opportunity to examine our habits and patterns. I like to say that a good habit puts you in the groove and a bad habit leaves you in a rut. The yoga mat is a safe place to experience how your habits influence what you do in your practice and in your life. Are you ready to slow down and notice where you’re headed?