Stay in the present.
We hear that in yoga a lot. Maybe you’re immune to the phrase from a decade or more on various mats in various studios hearing the phrase “stay present, stay mindful,” but kind of never really feeling like you’ve achieved it. Or maybe you’re investigating yoga for the first time and wondering what all this talk of staying in the present is really about.
Five years ago when I lived in a bigger city, I lost someone very important to me. After the first few months of acute grief were over, I decided to revisit my yoga practice by taking up Bikram yoga. Bikram is the brand name for a very strict, regimented 90 minute routine of 26 yoga poses done in a room heated to 100 or more degrees with high humidity. Almost like a low grade steam room.
The very strength-driven poses are held for minutes at a time, and you keep your eyes open the whole time while the instructor leads by standing on a raised podium and taking you through the poses by voice, not by demonstration.
And there are a lot of rules:
“Lock your knee!”
“Look straight ahead!”
“Stay in the room!”
Some people thrived in this environment, but this type of yoga was… not for me.
I knew it was not for me for months, but I still dutifully showed up four times a week and muscled my way through class even when I had to sit on a bench for 30 minutes afterward just to be able to drive home, and I’d go back to it even if a few days earlier I was staving off waves of nausea in the parking lot after making the mistake of eating less than 4 hours before class.
As is the way with the grieving process, my grief would unexpectedly show up in waves, and one afternoon I was feeling very distraught. I went to my yoga class and about halfway through, even though I was trying my hardest to stay in the present, waves of the past kept knocking me over – emotionally and physically. On that day I had no strength, I had no balance, the heat of the room felt oppressive. I couldn’t take the pressure of it, I knew a breakdown was coming, so I left the room.
As I stood in the cool lobby drenched in sweat, breathing and fighting back tears, the instructor came out and told me that I had to get back on my mat, that I should never leave the room, that it was important to stay in the present.
Well, at that moment, my personal present sucked. And I didn’t want to be in it. That’s my choice, and that is my yoga practice. Breaking the rules when I recognize they need to be broken.
Being in the present cannot be forced. It’s a nice reminder to hear the phrase, but it’s almost like trying to look directly at a big bright star; the moment you focus on it, it dims and feels more out of reach than ever. We call a yoga practice a “practice” for precisely this reason. We show up, we do the work on our mats, and our minds filter through all of the information from our past and our anxieties about our future.
That’s just fine, and normal. We show up just as we are that day and when during the many constant, moment-to-moment fluctuations in focus and ability we experience that fleeting sense of just being here in the present, we are blessed with some relief from all of our stuff. But it just happens when it happens. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok too. Your yoga practice is still valid and important.
Maybe the key is to redefine “staying in the present” for the days when we can’t appreciate where we’re at emotionally or physically, for the days when it feels like work to just show up to our yoga mat. Perhaps for those days, as well as all the rest, staying in the present just means not giving ourselves a bunch of guff for not being the super zen, perfectly balanced yogis that the presiding yoga rhetoric tells us we’re supposed to be. We shouldn’t have to strive to love ourselves or be “at peace” in those moments, but rather live with them as we would an annoying roommate who we love, but seriously needs to learn how to talk on the phone in a way that doesn’t wake the neighbors.
You can bring whatever self you’re working with that day to Hustle and Flow’s Power Yoga Flow. This nontraditional flow class is an energizing, strength building, mind clearing, fast paced, heart pumping, sweat inducing, athletic flow that keeps you moving while Liz’s curated “battle of the bands” style playlist helps keep your mind from wandering too far off the beaten path. Check out the class schedule here.