A student asked me this question just the other night after a meditation session at my past retreat in Sedona, Arizona. It was interesting that he asked this, not because of the question itself, but rather because this is something that I have been contemplating and meditating on for some time as to the degree of following a yogic lifestyle and what that really means for me.
I took a moment before I answered to call on my spirit to do most of the speaking. And, in response to his question, I began by saying that there are many suggestions to a yogic lifestyle and many variations as to what people, gurus, and yoga styles say are the best way. Having spent most of my life searching for the right way, in the last few years I have finally found that to live a yogic lifestyle, or basically a lifestyle with purpose and integrity, it must be meaningful and have value to you first and foremost.
Depending on what style of yoga you study, you will find many suggestions as to how to live your life in a more yogic, or self-less and meaningful way. However, doing all of these things/practices will not ensure you enlightenment or even happiness. Depending on where you are in your life currently, they may cause you more pain and suffering if you are engaging in them for the wrong reasons. My practice has changed a lot over the past decade and so have I. I have come out of a horrible nightmare of an eating disorder, I got married, my husband and I lost a child, I had two more children, and I opened a business. I work very hard to make sure that as partners that my husband and I continue to pursue our paths as well as connect with each other. I am not on this journey alone (well no one is ever, we are all One, but physically I’m traveling with a partner).
When I was younger, my practice was very strict and dedicated. I would be on my mat at least two hours every day. And if I wasn’t, it actually brought me a great deal of anxiety as though I was letting God down somehow. I would also have to eat a certain way. Looking back, some of that rigidity stripped me of opportunities for additional happiness and experiences because I couldn’t see beyond the structure of living what I thought was a proper lifestyle.
When I started to have children, I struggled with the ability to keep a regular schedule. I felt I was somehow less of a yogi and teacher until my teacher shared some very valuable words of wisdom. She said, “Hope, you are going to become a mom, one of the most blessed gifts of this world and one of unpredictability. Meditate when you can, practice when you can – maybe for just five minutes. And some days your meditations or asana will be very short lived or only in your mind. You will carve out a way that works for you and fills your needs.” For me, it was as though the sky had lifted. Those words have been very valuable over the past seven years.
My life now is very full. It is full of lots of different, wonderful things. For a few years, I actually came to the realization I had to let go of my physical practice and focus more on yoga off-the-mat through my actions, lifestyle, words, and intentions. In doing so, it was probably the most powerful yogic practice. This was when, for the first time, truly I felt that I knew what it meant to be a yogi. Two hours daily on your mat is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. I try to jump on my mat a little bit every day and sometimes I even get an hour or so, but that mat is not testament to how you live your life off of it. Many people will go to yoga class and then go out later that week and get drunk, or curse at their husbands or do unkind things to themselves or loved ones. Is that living a yogic lifestyle?
Yes, a regular practice and meditation twice daily is highly recommended and does create clarity, peace of mind, connection with your Higher Power or nature. But if your practice begins to take you away from the gifts of life, is it worth it? I had a family member when I was younger who found going to church incredibly fulfilling. She was finding herself and God by going. She even began going every day, sometimes twice a day. But as she did this, she started to neglect her duties as a mother and responsibility to her family physically, emotionally, and supportively. Those times she spent in prayer, praying for better things, for connection with God, to find herself, she was becoming disconnected from the blessings in her life—her family. This should have given her a way to, in fact, connect with Him even more. It’s about balance.
If you look at any great Guru or teacher, they usually have taken the teachings of their teacher and morphed them to work for their lives. Doing so as a compliment to say, ‘you have taught me to find myself and listen to my inner voice’ and, in doing that, I have found this is what I need. Those “yogic guidelines” are just that guidelines, not rules or duties, but suggestions to help you better discover who you are and find balance in your life.
That being said, for me to say I don’t meditate because I don’t have time when really I do have time, I just am being lazy. Well then, maybe incorporating meditation into your daily routine would be a good addition to help you create stability and a deeper discovery of the self. Finding what works for you is important. The more you find yourself through some of these suggestions the more you can realize what works for you and what doesn’t. Doing something good for the wrong reasons is just as bad as not doing it at all, maybe even worse.
So please know this, I am far from perfect. I have my own stuff and my own karma I am working on each day. I often say the wrong things and am still working on self-confidence. My yoga practice fluctuates between regular sessions on the mat with daily meditation to days without actual mat practice. I am not a strict vegetarian. I now eat seafood at times because I feel my body is calling for it. And, I have also branched out to a variety of foods. Instead of following what someone else says you should do, I work to do no harm in how I eat. I work to grow my own food and am a part of the process. The way in which I obtain food for my family has become a sacred one. On a rare occasion, you may find me with an alcoholic drink (which is very, very, rare). And, my house is equipped with a TV. These things don’t make me less of a yogi. My heart and inner truth tell me that it is not true. Yoga should be a means for you to find yourself a bit more and cultivate the connection that we are all One. We are One, first and foremost, with ourselves.
My mission is to live humbly, be the best version of myself, share my journey, and speak that which my inner voice has given me to speak about. I speak and do that which teachers before me have done not just because they say that is the way. I look to them for guidance and suggestions then very humbly and sacredly take these ideas back to my spirit and meditate and pray on whether they are really for me or not. I wish that for all of you.