Compassion might not seem like a quality you’d want to use on the mat if you’re looking to get stronger and try more advanced poses. However, in my experience, that’s exactly what we need when our sights are set on doing things to build strength and flexibility, whether it’s in the context of more advanced poses or refining the more essential postures.
In one of my recent classes, I watched as a new student struggled on the mat. I assisted as I could but also gave her space to find her own way. I find that this is a critical part of practice; learning how to listen to your intuition and make accommodations that seem appropriate in the moment, regardless of whether the teacher suggests them. I had never met her before but could tell that she was either new or perhaps returning to practice after an injury or time off.
As we proceeded through the one hour class, I could see that she was getting more steady and comfortable in her body. After class, we shared a few words as she asked about the strength and stamina required for Downward Facing Dog and wondered if I could give her some tips. It was only then that she shared that she’d had her first baby only a few months earlier and this was her first real foray back into yoga practice. She said she found that as she started, she was struggling but as she allowed her mind to relax and her heart to extend to herself a feeling of compassion, she actually found more strength was available to her and the practice flowed with more grace, ease and flexibility.
In times when we feel our buttons being pushed or our minds getting sucked into negatively ( “I hate this class,” “Why can’t I do this pose?” “Why is my body failing me?”) tap into a sense of compassion for yourself. Rather than extending it out to others (which many people can do but have a hard time extending it to themselves) extend it to yourself. Allow yourself room to be human. Look for, as this woman did, the reasons why you might be feeling out of sorts or unsteady in the poses. For many people, they often don’t connect activities (or lack of activity) off the mat to their experience on the mat. Our practice is the culmination of our whole life and things like an unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, increased stress about work or family and sickness or injury can all contribute to our expression of the poses. Rather than focusing on what is NOT there, focus on what IS there and how you can show yourself a little love.
Once we soften our hearts to give ourself the love we deserve, we may find that anything is possible-both on and off the mat.