Walking out of the yoga studio with my friend, Hannah, I said what I always say whenever she parks her mat and her amazing self near me in class:
“It was great to practice with you.”
She graciously said, “You, too!” And then she paused and said, “It took me a while to say ‘I practice yoga’ instead of ‘I do yoga.’”
Her comment got me to thinking: what does it mean to have a practice? How is a practice different than a hobby, or an exercise class that I go to? Is calling it a practice pretentious woo-woo lululemon doohockey?
While I was noodling on it, I asked some friends what they thought about having a practice. Here’s what Amy, Sarah and Gina said:
Practice means coming back…coming back into the pose…coming back to the present moment…coming back to intention…coming back even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. It is the ability to stay with what is uncomfortable and breathe. ~ Amy Kidd
I have days that practice is painful. I have days when practice is hyperactive and unfocused and days where I’m downright lazy. I keep coming back because most of the time it makes me better than I was before. ~ Sarah Creef Baugher
A practice means … wanting always to do better but learning that some days your best may not be what it was yesterday or what it may be tomorrow. Having the ability to be ok with whatever it is today. ~ Gina Williams
A practice is something that I do whether I am in the mood for it or not. I hike when I am in the mood to hike. I read when I feel like reading. But I practice mindful movement – on the mat or the dancefloor – even when I’m cranky or tired or sad or angry. I sit in stillness whether I’m up for it or not.
A practice is a commitment. My job is to show up the best I can. Sometimes that looks like a pretty decent standing bow and sometimes it looks like a broken umbrella. Sometimes that looks like a solid 20-30 minutes of sitting and sometimes it looks like a squirmy 5 minutes. The outcome is not my business. Showing up is.
(P.S. Sometimes I don’t show up for my practice for a while. Sometimes a long while. The cool thing is, it’s waiting for me whenever I’m ready to come back. The most forgiving friend ever.)
Then this is what Deborah and Melissa and Lisa said:
The practice of yoga [helps me] look for calm and strength on my mat and off. I can look for lessons in asana and find stillness in the crazy around me. ~ Deborah Barry
My yoga practice is something I do to improve my skills at being alive, being present, and being human. ~ Melissa Simmons
My practice is a time to do exactly that – to practice things I want to implement in the rest of my life. A hobby is pure enjoyment in the moment, and I do enjoy the physical act of yoga postures, but my practice goes deeper to remind me of my core values and intentions for life off the mat. ~ Lisa Jakub
A practice extends beyond the activity itself. A practice informs everything else. I do a series of core exercises and stretches most every day, but when I’m not doing them, I’m not doing them. When I finish a yoga class or step out of a Nia class, the principles continue to affect how and what I do. I love riding my bike but riding bike isn’t something that rudders my choices. A practice expands until it is happening all the time.
(P.S. And sometimes my connection to my practice in the course of my life is intermittent at best. It’s okay, it’s a practice not a perfect. I just keep coming back as best I can.)
My practice is a conversation with my higher self. It is recognizing how powerful and deserving I am individually because I am connected to everything else. This practice is self-empowering and allows me to see that same potential everywhere I look. ~ Sarah Creef Baugher
[My practice] is a structure that is done consistently and keeps me connected to a soulful intension. In this I try to stay more open to what emerges and it typically is unexpected. It has become a spiritual discipline that keeps me connected and more self-aware. ~ Hilary Nagel
A practice means taking care of my soul. ~ Gina Williams
Having a practice is a way of connecting to my highest values and my greatest potential. Having a practice isn’t necessarily a religious act (it isn’t for me) but it is a spiritual one. A practice connects me with that which is larger than myself.
A practice can be really any activity as long as it has these qualities: I do it whether I feel like it or not, it informs everything else I do and it connects me with something bigger than me.
Mahatma Gandhi (who was not my friend) said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”* While my practice certainly is a way that I make my own life happier, it is also my best attempt at leaving the world better than I found it.
*As it turns out, Gandhi never said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”