Coming Back to the Mat

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During a yoga class this week, my instructor said, “Everybody has a reason to come the first time, but what brings you back to the mat? Why,” he paused, “do you keep…showing up?”

It’s a powerful question that I have been pondering for several days now. People come the first time for a variety of reasons – because they got a Groupon or Living Social deal, for fitness or flexibility, for the social aspect or because a friend asked them, because of curiosity…. I have had guy friends tell me they went to see the girls in the cute little yoga outfits, sticking their booties up in the air, and girlfriends tell me they go because of the cute yoga instructor up front. I went mostly kicking and screaming, with great skepticism and trepidation.

In my mind, yoga was for the people who already knew how to do yoga, because if you didn’t already know the Sanskrit words for the different poses, if you didn’t know how to do the different movements, if you couldn’t keep up, then they would look down on you in distain. In short, it was a special club, that you either already belonged to, or you weren’t invited to join.

Last summer, I ran a marathon on an injury, and when the event was done, my team of coaches and trainers all told me that if I wanted to be able to keep running long term, I couldn’t run for a minimum of two months to really let my body heal. After two weeks I was stir crazy for something active to do. The only thing they agreed that I could do without further injury, was yoga, and only if I promised to do it at 50-60%.

So no one was more surprised than me, when I realized that I still wanted to show up regardless of injury. It went from being the only “allowed” exercise, to realizing that it was fun to see what crazy poses I was able to do. Then that changed to something even deeper, which is learning that it is less about perfecting poses (although I do like to strive towards looking pretty), and more about just being. It is the challenge of accepting myself in whatever condition I come to the mat, and choosing to be present for that hour or so. It is remembering the wonder that comes with doing things I had no idea I could do.

Anything worth doing in life usually takes some effort, and unless you find a deeper reason than what you started with, chances are that you will give up on it. This is true in relationships, diets or lifestyles changes, exercise, work patterns, and yoga. Eventually, the Groupon expires, the novelty wears off, it’s a lot easier to look at a yoga magazine than to show up and do the hard work in class if you want to see pretty people, and injuries do heal.

Yoga may have started out as an end unto itself for me, but it became about reflecting and finding inner peace and breathing. It became about the mat itself, letting that be my own space, where there is no judgment, except the judgment I bring to it. It is the smiling at myself, and giving myself grace, and listening to my body, and challenging my mind, and laughing when I fall, and choosing to get back up again. I come back to the mat because the mat will always meet me wherever I am.