A big part of my yoga practice has been self-study, the aspect of yoga that requires us to investigate our own habits, inclinations, and recurring behaviors.
One of my favorite teaching stories inspires self-study: There was once a man who blamed a neighbor for ruining his rose bushes, believing that the neighbor drove into them every morning when he set out for work. Over time, the man got so worked up about his neighbor, it became almost unbearable — until one day he suddenly realized it had been his car all along. The man’s own careless driving had ruined the roses.
We’ve all had the “aha” experience of recognizing in ourselves things that annoy us so much when others do them. That’s what makes self-study so valuable. It teaches us humility, patience, and acceptance — of ourselves as well as others.
The decision to open a refill store suggested a self-study challenge, which was to see how much single-use plastic I discard in a week. I started this last week. Instead of throwing the plastics away or tossing them into the recycling bin, I put them it in a (reusable) shopping bag. I couldn't collect everything (too messy or I was far from my shopping bag), and probably missed collecting about a third of what I used. Still, what I had saved was a revelation. Naturally, I tried not to veer from my usual usage during my challenge… but that is one of the things that happens when you begin to observe yourself — things do change. Of course, change is part of the plan.
On the eve of the Third Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush is reported to have said, “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.” Though it may have felt like the last word on the matter for Bush, time has shown that a significant number of American’s didn’t agree. And more and more disagree every day.
People are complex, aren’t we? We all feel there are things in our lives that are not up for negotiation, and many really aren’t. But often enough we come to learn we are able to change things we imagined were non-negotiable. That’s particularly true when self-observation allows us to recognize another way. I may never give up that spontaneous paper cup of chai when out with friends, but I can remember to take my travel mug when I deliberately head for the coffee shop. Or maybe I just say no thank you to the plastic lid which is something I don’t usually do when I don’t have my travel mug.
So how am I doing now? Well, it’s a work in progress. I am happy to share that I won't have to buy shampoo and conditioner in those plastic containers anymore. Ditto for laundry detergent. Still, there is still the occasional plastic bottle and sandwich bag. What I know for sure is that if I took this picture last year the bag would be much fuller.
So, back to the self-study challenge. Part One: If you want to join me, for one week collect the plastics you would otherwise have thrown away (or recycled). If it’s clean and you’re local, I’ll take it and put it to good use. Some will become part of a community installation we are going to create in front of Eco Loka at 23 Race Street. Snap a photo and send it to me, and we can arrange a drop-off of your salvaged plastic at the stordio (my combo word for store and studio). Part Two: At the end of six months, repeat the challenge then take another photo and compare the results. We’ll collect and display the pairs of photos at the stordio so we can see the impact of our collective efforts.
This isn't a contest, of course. It’s just an opportunity for self-study, a way of observing our habits to see whether we’re able to change ones we otherwise might imagine are not negotiable.
I hope you’ll join us.
Did your family ever just get in the car and just take a drive to take a drive? Just piling into the car with no particular destination in mind, just driving for the sheer enjoyment of the scenery and time together.
Nowadays we all drive fast to arrive at a destination and never seem to have enough time to even get where we are going, let alone enjoy the ride. Joy rides seem to be a thing of the past when people were grateful to have a car and grateful to have spare time to just drive and be with family.
From what I have observed on social media it seems as though the idea of a yoga practice has suffered from this same intensity. So-called influencers encourage a practice geared towards attaining a goal, whether it is a tricky flow series or handstand or perfect triangle. Having a goal certainly is fine and often necessary to keep us interested. But do we really want our yoga practice to be as fraught as our time on the road?
We did an experiment last week which was to internally express gratitude for each of the movements that we did during a flow class. Kind of like you might do when driving through a beautiful landscape. We were encouraged to not push our asana, and just flow through — as though we were watching the landscape pass — then express thanks for our ability to be in the asana without striving to have it different. Even if the tree pose you were in wobbled to the ground.
You may think, "Isn't that how you are supposed to practice yoga asana?" Well, yes. But consider the messages we tell ourselves during class that reflect and are augmented by the media portrayal of yoga and by our culture’s contemporary way of being.
Being grateful for what is present is one of the highest yoga practices. The ashtanga path of the Yoga Sutras is given to yoga students who desire higher consciousness: We are told to follow ahimsa, to act without violence; to move forward with aparigraha, non-grasping; and to look for santosha, contentment in all things. The ability to appreciate the wealth of what is here in the moment is an aspect of the Goddess Lakshmi that adds a richness to life that cannot be obtained by "getting there.”
This month, as we investigate gratitude, perhaps we can start to look for this contentment in aspects of our life rather than always wondering how fast we can get there. It's a sweet challenge don't you think? Let me know how it goes. I will be doing the same.