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Yoga doesn’t get you a pass on life

Sunday, April 18, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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Here’s the thing: Yoga doesn’t get you a pass on life.

It’s been a little bit frantic around here lately (I guess that can happen when you light a fire under your ass) and it hasn’t always been easy to find time to ground myself and connect to who, what and where I am right now.

Yoga is usually how I ground myself, it’s how I meet myself wherever I am.

But lately I’ve been skipping time for these grounding practices in favour of getting one more thing ticked off my to do list.

It’s not that I’m grindingly busy. I’m excited and motivated and energised by what I’ve got going on. When you doing what you love you get less tired, I’m sure of that.

But the nervous system needs downtime even from enthusiasm and when I don’t make time to get real with myself on my mat, it shows up in my life off the mat.

On Saturday morning I woke up early. It was a stunning autumn morning and I decided to go for a walk on the beach instead of practicing yoga inside. But before I went for the walk I decided to quickly check my email.

Ten hours later I got up from my computer.

There are compelling reasons why I spent my entire Saturday on the computer instead of outside in the sun helping my boyfriend dig out our old fence and prepare the posts for the new fence. They have mostly to do with a new website that I was planning to launch this week, which will now be launched next week.

I was certainly compelled by it at the time. In retrospect, it all seems a little less compelling. But that’s what a little perspective will do for you, I guess.

So I sat at my desk all day, cursing at my abortive attempts to rewrite code that I don’t even understand. I looked out the window at my boyfriend working in the garden and I envied him.

I also felt guilty for not helping him and my guilt made me exaggerate my displeasure at the work I was doing on my website. Whenever my boyfriend came in to check on me I felt the need to make sure he understood I wasn’t having fun in there while he was out working. So I complained more about the cursed code and the endless links that I had to fix.

I didn’t take a break.

I didn’t go for a walk.

I didn’t even go and sit in the sun for ten minutes breathing in those last beautiful rays of autumn sun.

By the end of the day I was a wreck. I was emotionally, mentally and physically spent.


I picked a fight with my boyfriend. I burst into tears. I had a little meltdown.

It wasn’t pretty.

Fortunately, thanks largely the last few years of regular yoga and meditation practice, I was also able to see myself with a little tenderness.

So I gave myself a pass on one bad day, read some beautiful poetry and sent myself off to bed.

When I shared this story with the 30 days of yoga participants one person said that she appreciated my honesty. She said that she had somehow imagined that as a yoga teacher I would be above this kind of frustration. So I wanted to talk a little bit about the idea that yoga is about transcending life’s challenges.

As I understand yoga, it is the practice of meeting ourselves wherever we are. That means meeting ourselves, with courage and compassion, even when we are in a place of fear or anger or sadness. Rather than transcending our fears, it means meeting them. It means going through, rather than around, our fears and it means being able to look at ourselves, just as we are, with acceptance and love.

The vast array of practices that make up the path of yoga are all designed to increase our well-being and restore us to our original, unified, state. This state is called samadhi and although it is sometimes translated as bliss, I don’t believe that it means the kind of trance-like bliss that involves avoiding all discomfort. Discomfort, like change, is a condition of our lives in these bodies.

My understanding of samadhi is being able to remain fully aware, fully awake, under all conditions – even conditions that might evoke in us discomfort or fear.

The longer I practice yoga the more I notice a certain awareness that remains with me even as I allow my thoughts and feelings to lead me down a path of suffering. This awareness is always there and, if I make the time to connect with it through yoga, it always offers me a place of refuge amongst the maelstrom of my own dramas and stories.

Some people call that place of refuge God. I think of it as an awareness and presence which is always with me because it is my own essential nature. I can always rest back into that place of spaciousness and compassion because it is actually my own best self.

Ultimately, this is what yoga is about for me. Yes, yoga has given me the ass of a woman ten years younger. Yes, it has strengthened my abs, fixed my dicky back and healed my gammy hip. Yoga has done all those things for me and, if you practice regularly, it will probably do those things for you too. But I practice yoga primarily because it is a path back to my original nature.

On days like Saturday when my life off the mat reveals the results of neglecting my life on the mat for a few days, I remember why I practice yoga.

Yoga is not going to get me a pass on life. I’m still going to have to deal with new websites that don’t work the way I want them to. I’m still going to lose my perspective some days. I’m probably even going to keep picking fights with my boyfriend at the worst possible moment.

But I will have a path back to that place of refuge, a way to recognise my true self in the midst of the drama and, if I choose to, to come home to myself.


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One Response to "Yoga doesn’t get you a pass on life"

  1. Christianne says:

    I’m late getting to this post, but I so appreciate every single last word of it.

    As I was reading what yoga does for you — meeting your fears and meeting yourself with acceptance and love, no matter where you find yourself — I found myself thinking, “Huh. That’s what I call grace in my own life.”

    So then it made me smile to hear you say you’ve heard many people name that place of refuge God. That’s true for me. The refuge is God, and what God offers me is grace. That grace is what allows me to become still, look at what is, and receive ever-available love.

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