Mindful attention to things around us and a regular yoga practice are effective tools to learn lessons that serve us well off the mat. This week my students and I are working on practicing with patience. We have practiced challenging standing poses such as bird of paradise, arm balances such as astavakrasana (8-angle pose), and forward folds such as parivrtta janu sirsasana (revolved head-to-knee pose). None of these is easy but a beautiful thing about yoga is that every beginning student can take some expression of the pose and that every advanced student will be challenged by some expression of the pose.
So, this week my students with more and with less experience with yoga poses have tried these challenging standing poses, arm balances, and folds this week. Advanced students have fallen out of some of the poses and beginning students have used props to approximate some semblance of the poses. But everyone has tried them – and it appeared as though most of the students had fun trying! They might as well try - holding astavakrasana for five breaths is not going to reduce world hunger, so the risks are relatively minimal although the benefits are substantial. These challenges afford an opportunity to strengthen muscles in new ways and to stretch muscles in other ways. More importantly, challenges on the mat teach patience. No one I know has ever come straight into a beautiful bird of paradise pose the first try. It takes time, practice, and patience to finally succeed. I remind students to use the breath to transition from one pose to the next and to observe their reactions when they don’t quite end up where they wanted to be. Getting into the final expression of the pose is much less important than being patient with the process of getting there. Practicing with patience means allowing ourselves time to develop the strength, balance, and flexibility to get into and sustain the pose. Practicing with patience means accepting our current limitations that prevent a full expression of the pose. Practicing with patience means breathing in the moment without forcing and controlling the outcome. Practicing with patience makes practicing challenging poses more fun.
The trick is to bring the patience we learn on the mat out into the world when class is over. Any challenge daily life throws our way can be practiced with patience, observing our reactions, accepting our current limitations, breathing in the moment, and letting go of controlling the outcome. Practicing with patience might just make life’s challenges more fun.