How to practice yoga without a mat

This was supposed to be me three weeks ago...
This was supposed to be me three weeks ago…

II.1 tapaḥ svādhyāya īśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ

With both of my girls in school this year, I was sure I’d have all sorts of free time. I was also sure I’d be pretty miserable without my kids around so I created a list of some of the long-neglected, adulthood things that I’ve been wanting to learn and improve upon.  I figured  I could dedicate myself to these pursuits to help stave off the empty nest misery.  I made a go to list before school even started with these personal learning goals: 1. regularly back-up and maintain my computer files,  2. ride my bike the mile and a half to work.  3. keep track of my income and expenses. The list continues for quite a while, but these are the top three.  I established “money Monday,” I borrowed and tuned up a bike, and I got out the old manual that came with my computer.

Four weeks later, none of this is going as planned.  The girls are in school and it turns out, I don’t actually have all that much more free time. I’m miserable, not because the girls are gone, but because I realize how important the computer and financial stuff really is and I can’t believe how much I don’t know.  I have a bike sitting outside my door, but I haven’t managed to get myself to ride it. I expected all of these things to take some time and some effort but with my smarts, resources and motivation, I  also expected to be able to find the fun in saving gas $,  computer savvy and financial wizardry.  It’s not fun.  I hate it and I’m meeting all kinds of crazy resistance in side of myself.

I can’t seem to find peace or satisfaction in this process. I can’t seem to get excited about any of it, even the biking, because it’s not coming easily. For all of my smarts (ahem) this kind of stuff is actually really hard for me and it’s hard in a way that gives me headaches and leaves me feeling incompetent and frustrated and a little overwhelmed.  I’ve been looking for a way out.  I’ve been considering what it might be like if I just go back to not wanting to do the things on my list.  What if I just go along with fantasy numbers and bottom lines and my fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong with my 6 year old computer.  But I can’t. I know I can’t quit.  The time has come. I need to do this stuff.  I need what these new skills offer. I wish it were as simple as putting on a smile and digging in, but there’s stuff I have to address. I must battle all this resistance and unpleasantness that keeps rising up inside of myself every time I come to my list.

In a yoga sutra class, I remember my yoga teacher, Chase Bossart, talking about how things start to feel hard along this yogic path and they really challenge the way that you see and do things.  He describes it like this:

When we begin yoga we are unconsciously unconscious.  Our habits and patterns run the show and we don’t give our actions much thought.

Then, we start to practice yoga and we see what we are doing, how those habits cause us trouble and the ways in which we want to make change.  This is the hardest phase because we are conscious of what we are doing unconsciously.  We can talk about making changes and learning new things, but then we turn around and do that old thing again…and again…and again.  All of those unconscious behavior patterns are still in place and still come on through all of the time. Consciously unconscious can feel like the pits.

We are here at consciously unconscious for a loooong time. It takes a lot of yoga and a lot of patience to move through all the unconscious stuff that we do that might not be so helpful. But the promise is, if we stay with the task, we can eventually move toward consciously conscious. Here we make decisions with awareness and intention, less automatic, habitual responses.  And, because of our practice, we are able to think and act with focus and clarity.  Without all of that unconscious stuff going on, we can have less suffering and we can bring the change we want to see.  Beautiful.

When it starts to get hard and we become aware of all of the unconscious behavior and how difficult it will be to make long lasting change, we just might bail.   We want to go back to sleep.  I thought I understood what he meant and that I had weathered some difficult times.  But, no. This thing I’m going through, this is things getting hard.  I’m having to learn how to do mundane things that I hate because I see that it’s time and it’s necessary.  I’m not doing it with the ease and grace of an enlightened being at all.  I’m dragging myself through it and I’m whining and complaining the whole time. I want to bail.

But I’m not bailing.  This is kriyā-yoga. Staying with this hard stuff that I want to learn and then hate learning is yoga in action…yoga all the time and in all things. I thought I got it, but now, I really think I get it.  Yoga doesn’t always feel easy and good and it’s not just about your hamstrings.  It doesn’t have to involve a yoga mat, either.  It does ask that we give attention and presence to what’s going on in front of you and inside of you. Sometimes, you’ve got to practice your yoga behind a desk and a computer screen cringing and feeling uncomfortable and dumb.  It can require intention and effort and asking for help (tapas).  You’ll need self-reflection and awareness of the things that get in the way of learning (svādhyāya) so that you are able to move through this resistance.  And it takes humility, patience and trust that this feeling won’t last forever, that learning can happen and that this discomfort just might be part of the process of growing into the person you want to become (īśvara-praidhānāni)*. The discomfort just might be part of the process. *YS II.1

I’m not facing any epic challenges here. This isn’t going to be a story of victory that goes down in herstory.  These are mundane challenges, however difficult.  There is no major outpour of sympathy coming from my corner as I whine my way through computer tasks and piles of financial paperwork.  I’ve had to ask for a lot of help and be willing to make changes in how I spend my time. I also have to battle all the self-talk that is really unhelpful, “Amanda, you should know this already.  Maybe you can’t actually do it.  How could you have missed this really obvious thing for soooo long???”  This is my yoga practice these days.  Stay. Keep trying. Make sustainable daily effort. Don’t let the feeling to bail out win.  Don’t let the old tape recorder in my head keep telling my how hard this is.  Be present with what comes up and feed  that desire to get better and learn, even though it is difficult.

18 thoughts on “How to practice yoga without a mat

  1. If you have a Mac, you can use TimeMachine for backup (Apple computers come with it). TimeMachine will automatically backup your disk to another drive at regular intervals. Windows may have something similar. I might be able to help if you are using an Apple computer. I learnt it the hard way after my disk crashed last month.

    1. This is something else I was going to mention – my husband has helped me figure out a plan for backing up. I have a Mac, and he has a Windows, so whatever you have, I’d be glad to pass along some advice from him. I do think he has something similar to TimeMachine for his computer. I use TimeMachine, and I depend on it. The only thing I don’t like about it is that you can’t go into the back-up and pull out individual files. It’s your whole hard drive – all or nothing. As a photographer, I have to have additional external drives for my 1000s of photos (because they don’t all fit on my hard drive) and a way to go in and find individual files. So I have a few different external drives.

      As far as finances, not my forté, but I have kept up with my freelancing money with excel spreadsheets. But I don’t make very much, so it’s not so complicated.

      1. Shelli and Sunil, I’m on a mac, too. I’ve heard mixed reviews about time machine, but I love the sound of “automatic backups”.

        I spent a little time and got to know a program I already own called, “chrono-synch,” and I think I’ll just put an alert on my phone and do it… do it. do it- do it-do it. (I’m channeling my 5-year old here, who has a great cheer for getting things done.) I’m starting to work with excel, but whoo-whee, it is going to take some time to get really comfy with.

        Thanks for the encouragement and practical advice! I sincerely appreciate it.

  2. Love this. I have recently started to be more intentional with some goals I have, including cooking with/for my family, which is NOT my forté and far from one of my interests. Then I found a quote that has really helped me: “A year from now you may wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb. It’s a great reminder to me that if I start working slowly and in small increments, in a year I’ll have accomplished a lot. Now after only two months, I’ve been cooking more with my children, building a calendar of meal plans, and that is motivating me to keep going. (Starting a yoga practice for myself and my kids is another one of my goals, but luckily I’m more interested in it than cooking!)

    1. I love the quote and I love this reminder that the most effective way to bring a new habit into our lives is to do a little of it every day. I’m so happy to hear you’ve been able to do that with cooking for your family. That is a really beautiful gift to offer. Yoga practice works the same way, I find. Practice one pose every day (I’m a big fan of Warrior !– breathe in as you lunge and raise the arms, exhale as you lower and straigten the front leg–10x) and ta-da!!! you have a yoga practice.

  3. I like this, Amanda! It’s a good reminder a) that we’re not perfect. We may have some good tols in the yoga and meditation department, and perhaps in the writing and life-managing departments, but then there’s other areas where we may fall flat on our face. And b) it all comes back to the practice. This is a great reminder that life is not going to be easy and smooth ideal all of the time, and therein lies the lesson and the gift. 🙂

    1. Hee.hee, thanks Lybsta. It’s really easy to get better at the things I’m really good at already. This experience reminds me of what it’s like for students new to yoga. It can be really hard to start this practice– it feels weird and uncomfortable and it asks us to try new things. It’s a good lesson in compassion…for myself and for others.

  4. Powerful and oh so true. Always love a reminder that this path isn’t just for happiness and peace – the real work starts when we get into our own crap consciously and deliberately. Can’t ever imagine going back to sleep! Breathe on…

  5. If setting up a back up drive for your computer is overwhelming then you might consider looking at Its super easy, you almost don’t need to do anything. Its probably good to have both (one back up at home, and one at a secure offsite location – its great for the peace of mind) but carbonite alone would likely be enough. As regards the expenses, I don’t really use it myself but a quickbooks-like software might be useful.

    Having said that, I can’t help but think that maybe you are being a little too hard on yourself again. You certainly make some insightful points about the process of making change in yourself, and Chase breaks it down so beautifully, doesn’t he? But I wonder if the list is maybe part the issue. I mean, yes, you gotta get your computer backed up. Do that tomorrow (it will take no more then 20 minutes to set it up at carbonite.) And yes, your life would likely be a lot more organized and maybe you’d be smarter with your money if you were keeping better records. But the sky isn’t at risk of falling over it and you can do some research on that the day after tomorrow. About the bike….whatever. If you enjoy the cardio exertion of riding the bike then great but if its not happening then who cares?

    I guess what I am trying to get at is that you seem like a really honest person who is doing your fullest to be the best expression of yourself. What would happen if you just threw out the list? Would you really just give up on all the things that were on it? I’m betting not.

    As always, your transparency is inspiring.

  6. J. Brown, Thanks. Thanks for the practical suggestions (I got the computer backed up!!!) and thanks for the reminder not to try so very hard. This is a thing. It’s a thing that I fall into when life throws things my way that I don’t like and are out of my control. I decide to be in control of something and it comes up as this weird hard-ass version of myself that is so difficult to be with. And then my yoga practice somehow gets implicated in the whole thing—or it gets wrapped into the “why” and the “how I’m gonna” and then I start to hate not only my life but my yoga practice a little bit.

    I’m going to think some more about this and maybe post about it next week. I don’t like it when I get this idea that “yoga is making me do something,” because not only is it not true (when I’m balanced, yoga practice helps life to be so much more pleasant and I like myself a lot), but it’s also a trend I see…householder yoga starts to turn toward austere-practices/discipline/punishment yoga.


    1. The only reason I even had the mind to make my previous comment is because it is at the heart of my personal work too. You know that adage that says: “No steps need to be taken.” I have grappled with it over the years. I’ve got to deal with health insurance, and rent, and just the aspirations I have for the things I’d like to do and experience in my life, and ts kind of hard to enbrace the idea that no steps need to be taken when it sure feels like some steps need to be taken.

      What I have come to is that the adage refers to a sensibility or perspective on what we do more then whether we are doing it or not. There is nowhere I need to get to. And there is nothing that needs to be done. And then, I just continue doing what I am doing. Perhaps with less presure and expectation imposed upon myself.

      But even more importantly, and the real impotice for me, is the need for unconsitional nurturing and intimacy. Thats the voice in myself that helps me through. The one that says, its OK. Its OK that you didn’t ride your bike. Its OK that you don’t make enough money and your wife has to work as much as she does. its OK that you ate those cookies. Then, when I feel that love, that support, the voice says: “OK, now what is something that we can do with joy right now?”

      The beauty is, we have lifetime and lifetimes. So there is no rush.
      Sending unconditional love your way.

      1. You know, sometimes this voice you are talking about.. the it’s OK, nurturing voice, calls to mind those parents out there who are so incredibly good at creating a safe, loving and playful environment for their children. I remember a time in the public library. I was sitting and I pretended to read a book while really, I was listening to a woman do this with her child. The kid said something whiny or annoying and then the mama turned it into this opportunity for self-exploration. All of a sudden, the annoying thing seems kind of brilliant and the experience was transformed. The kid wasn’t afraid of being annoying because he had the safety of knowing that his mom was seeing the very best part of himself so he could experiment with feelings and whines and ideas and take chances. Really, it was all there.

        Your comments remind me of this experience, J. Brown. I get the feeling of time and space, patience and the feeling that even if I did a whole lot less, perhaps I’d end up with more.

  7. It’s in the everyday epic challenges, where Yoga now helps me the most. Loved your post.

    Also, I’m a list person. There are two important thing about a lists. One is, obviously, to make progress and tick things off. So I always put easy things on the list. But, it’s also very important to focus on the aspect of what has been done, not what remains incomplete. And two, throw the list away. Even if there’s still stuff on it yet to be done. I remember you liking the phrase “give permission.” When going through goals and trying to accomplish things we dread and put off… give yourself permission to through away the old list and create a new one. Leave something off the list for awhile. It’s not going anywhere, it will still be there needing to be dealt with.

    And now, back to my list.

  8. It comes down to how we use the list, doesn’t it? Or even how we use Yoga. How we use any tool, really. I remember Chase saying that if we hold a sharp knife by the handle, it can be a very useful tool, but if we hold it the other way, it can cause a lot of suffering.

    I do still like the feeling that comes with giving myself permission. It’s generous. There’s patience and a plentiful feeling that goes along with it. Thanks for this. It’s just what I needed to hear.

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