Practice

{So, this post was supposed to go up yesterday, but thanks to a stellar power play by Google Chrome and WordPress, an hour’s worth of writing disappeared for no good reason. It was neat and I used many bad words.}

Earlier this week during yoga, our instructor stressed the importance of practice, both in reference to  yoga itself and life in general. Throughout the class, she repeated the notion that we are continually in a mode of practice, refining and establishing our skills so that we may be prepared for everything that comes our way. In a literal sense, we practice yoga so that we may develop our flexibility, our strength, and our presence in the activity itself. On a higher level, the movements and the poses we practice in yoga are meant to strengthen us for our lives outside of the studio.

This is my favorite part about yoga (besides spending 5 straight minutes in pigeon pose, perhaps). Going through the motions of practicing poses that might be difficult or awkward forces us to concentrate on the task at hand. It forces us to remove our attention from the past and the future into the present moment, and to me this is the most valuable part of the practice.

Certainly the strength and stretching achieved in yoga are a great benefit, but I believe the true practice, the kind that we can really bring into our day-to-day lives, is this simplified mindset of being present. The advantages to this kind of thinking are huge and can have a positive effect on our stress levels, sense of gratitude, and overall happiness.

I began thinking about how this notion of practice can be carried into my everyday life, namely—running. When training for a race, we are quite literally practicing; building our speed and endurance so that on race day we can, ideally, perform our absolute best. In a less literal sense, running—similar to yoga—teaches us lessons that we can apply outside of the sport. Running up hills is an incredible metaphor for overcoming obstacles in our everyday lives. A bad run teaches us that sometimes we need to be humble in the face of overwhelming circumstances. I could really go on and on, and although maybe it’s far fetched, I am willing to bet that most runners learn their most valuable lessons while on the road.

I really like to think of runs as practice, for both races and for life. When running is given the guise as a practice, suddenly it becomes something to take advantage of—and not something to get over with. There are times on runs when I really just want to be done, but I’m realizing more and more that although my optimism and grit may not be at their peak all the time, we need to go through the practice of defeat in order to get stronger. A run might be effortless or excruciating, but either way it’s a chance to practice willpower and self-reflection.

I think the ability to see your actions in day-to-day life as practice is very progressive. Sure, it’s really super difficult, and I can guarantee there’s close to no one out there that can define their intentions, strengths, and weaknesses on a moment-to-moment basis. What does that even mean, right?

The point is, our world does not exactly cater to living in the present, and we cannot expect our minds to remain unstitched and calm all the time. We can, however, try looking a little closer at the things we do and ask ourselves…why? When we take a close look at the habits, good and bad, that carry us through our regular routines, we allow ourselves a greater understanding of that which lifts us up and holds us back.

Because I have delved deep into the psyche of my yoga-doing and running self, I have recognized the benefits of these practices, and therefore I know how important they are to my happiness. There are also things I know I do which I (very conscientiously) try and avoid examining, because I know I’ll recognize how misplaced and unnecessary they are. I.E. Why do I spend all day on my computer, regularly checking Twitter and Facebook, only to close my computer and immediately turn to my phone to check them in App form for the rest of the night? Well, first of all, because I’m a 21st century 20-something female. But I do it for the same reason we all do it—because it’s mindless entertainment that gives us a distraction from the task of —Gasp!— entertaining ourselves.

But I can still practice being unplugged. When I go to the gym or for a run, I rarely bring my cell phone because I enjoy having the time (however short it may be), to focus on one task in front of me.

And this is the beautiful thing about practice—it is a designated time for opportunity. Opportunity for us to concentrate on simply inhaling and exhaling while holding Eagle Pose. Opportunity for us to run as slowly as possible for one mile and then as fast as we can the next mile. These things teach us, they shape us, and when we start to regard our actions as practices, we can view our lives as works in progress with plenty of room for growth and potential.

Question: What do you want to practice more of?

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