Patricia has been coming to my yoga classes for more than 15 years. Last week while we were in the midst of practicing a quadriceps stretch at the wall she said, “I have to say how much I appreciate the work we do in this class.”
Patricia and her husband had spent the previous week hiking in Glacier National Park. They met a friend there whose back problems prevented him from hiking at all. He spent the entire week indoors at the lodge looking at his devices, she said. When she asked him if he’d done anything to try to alleviate his back problems, he replied that he’d had an MRI that showed no visible problems. She suggested yoga and bodywork, which he shrugged off. “We were surrounded by all that beauty,” Patricia said, “and he couldn’t enjoy it.”
Patricia suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, but her yoga practice keeps her symptoms at bay enough that she was able to hike every day while she was in Glacier. On a purely physical level, this is the best reason I can think of to practice. The ability to perform “advanced” backbends, splits or hourlong headstands does little to enhance the quality of the rest of our life. But Patricia’s gentle, steady, long-term practice has kept her body able to move through her day, and even hike long distances, with minimal pain, even as she enters her 60s.
Practicing the staples—standing poses, balance poses, simple backbends, forward bends, twists and lateral movements—allows us to continue doing the things we value in our lives. It keeps us mobile and strong so that we can walk without falling, sit on the floor (and get back up), squat in the garden, sleep more comfortably and hike stunning trails. Simple, steady asana practice brings grace to our daily movements. We don’t need to practice fancy poses for asana practice to benefit us in very real ways every single day.
If You’re Bored, You’re Not Paying Attention
But Patricia’s story didn’t end there. She went on to talk about how mindful movement—her regular asana, and sitting and walking meditation practices—allowed her to appreciate hiking more than ever. Her husband has always loved to hike. But Patricia admitted, “I used to think hiking was boring.
“But this time I so appreciated feeling my legs moving, my feet touching the ground,” she continued. “I really appreciated the joy of moving. Mindfulness practice—sitting and walking meditation—have helped me enjoy just the simple act of moving. I’m so grateful.”
The ability to feel gratitude for something as mundane as the ability to walk—something most of us do every single day—is the basis for the cultivation of santosha (contentment), the second of yoga’s niyamas. When we are present for our daily tasks, even the ones we find boring or unpleasant, we open to the possibility of appreciation and gratitude.
Boredom comes from inattention. When we are truly present to what we’re experiencing through our senses as we move through our daily routines—drinking a cup of tea, walking in our neighborhood or in the woods, washing dishes, chopping veggies, brushing our teeth, sweeping our kitchen floor—we realize that these activities are anything but boring. There’s so much coming in through our senses all the time. We only need to look a little more closely to experience the ever-changing palette of sensation and to realize the richness available to us in any moment.
This realization gives rise to appreciation. When we can appreciate the most mundane moments of our everyday lives, as Patricia felt in the simple act of taking a step, we can feel contented with our lives as they are.
Contentment doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t sometimes invest our efforts into changing our lives for the better. It simply allows us to do so from a place of appreciation, rather from a place of desperation and lack. Living in contentment and appreciation calms and quiets the agitation of neediness and grasping.
Our asana practice helps us live more easefully in our bodies, enabling us to move through our lives in greater comfort. But coupled with mindfulness, asana practice helps us appreciate the joys of living and moving in these bodies. From appreciation arises contentment, a quiet happiness that infuses everything in our lives.