Mindfulness in the Face of Life’s Little Annoyances

You know how some people just rub you the wrong way, even if they’ve done nothing to warrant it? Maybe it’s the guy who works at the coffee shop you frequent every morning, the one who always says hello but looks as though he’s just smelled something bad. Maybe it’s your coworker whose friendly attempts at small talk grate before you’ve had a chance to drink the coffee you just bought from the dour barista. They haven’t done anything to offend you; there’s just something about them.

There’s a girl in my yoga class who, until recently, was like that for me. She’s never said a word to me, nor I to her, but I was just not a fan. Most of the reason is that she commits one of my biggest pet peeves–getting up and leaving during savasana (or sometimes she does other, more energetic poses in place of this all-important final resting pose)–but the fact that she always seems determined to try to stretch herself into the fullest extent of the pose, form be damned, didn’t help either. Take your cues from your body, not from Instagram, girl.

So I’m in class, in savasana, while she’s doing pigeon pose or whatever, and suddenly I realise: if she’s beng a “bad yogi” by ignoring the niyama of isvara pranidhana, surrender, then I’m being a bad yogi by letting her actions dictate my feelings in opposition to the niyama of santosha, contentment. Whatever she is doing is not half as detrimental to my own well-being as what my own thoughts and prejudices are doing to me.

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The Joy of Small Progress

One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago is the power of small movements. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of or desire for the most intense and difficult postures—sinking a millimetre deeper in pigeon pose or your heels a nearly imperceptible amount closer to the floor in downward dog just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush that dropping back into wheel pose or managing your first headstand. Social media does not always help either. The “simple” poses just aren’t as sexy as inversions, backbends, and splits. But they’re equally important, and it’s equally important to notice and acknowledge our progress, however small, in whatever we do, and to recognise that there are different types of progress which are all worthwhile. 

Many people have discussed the negative effects of social media on yoga, and I definitely agree with many of those critiques. I am beyond tired of Instagram yogis preaching truthfulness and honesty then making undisclosed sponsorship posts an hour later. But I love social media’s other impacts on yoga—finding inspiration from more advanced practitioners, participating in “yoga challenges,” and learning tips from teachers around the world. Still, I think one thing that’s sometimes lost, not only on the internet but also in my and probably many folks’ personal practice is the way small progress can enrich your routine. There’s a reason, after all, that yoga is called a “practice.”  

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One of the first times I ever tried wheel pose, a difficult one for me due to a ganglion cyst on my wrist.

In every aspect of life, I am a big fan of setting small, achievable milestone goals on the way to a larger goal. Yoga-wise, one of my New Years resolutions for 2017 was to get my splits; I didn’t achieve that, not even close. I’m not disappointed, but I realise that what I should have done is set smaller goals to work on, from one to another. From X to Y degrees (with Y obviously not being near 180 yet), for example. Reaching these small goals would be a good way to motivate myself to stay on track.

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Stepping Back to Go Forward

I used to be a fairly good pianist. Not impressively good, I don’t think I had the raw talent and I certainly didn’t have the dedication to practicing to take it anywhere beyond a serious hobby and a minor role in my high school orchestra. But I was also far better than “knows chopsticks and picked out the melody to ‘My Heart Will Go On’ once”; 12 years of lessons (more, if you count the keyboard classes before I was old enough for private instruction) will do that to you. At the end of each school year I participated in a program called “piano guild,” in which students were tasked with playing—from memory—a number of pieces for an adjudicator. One year, I presented 10 selections by Bach. In others, I included movements of sonatas by Mozart and Haydn. So yeah, I was good.

Then I went away to college. And grad school. And across the country. And to Canada. And I just stopped playing. Sure, I occasionally got to put my fingers on a set of keys, but I never made any effort to seek out regular access to a piano so I could continue practicing regularly. 

And that’s okay. I’ve always loved making music, but it’s just something I enjoy rather than an unyielding passion for me like it is for some. So letting it fall by the wayside wasn’t a heartbreak. 

Still, though, I have always enjoyed it, so since I’m back at my parents’ house for a few months before Steve and I head off to NZ, I decided I wanted to shake some of the rust away and start playing again. My parents were kind enough to have the piano tuned, and I’ve made it a point to practice a few times each week.

Here’s the thing: I’m still good. You don’t just lose your skills at something you worked at for over a decade just because you spend some years away. I don’t remember most of the songs I once knew by heart, but I can still play them if I look at the sheet music, and they still sound pretty decent. 

The problem is this: while I know logically that I am undeniably rusty, my intuition doesn’t seem to be able to make the connection. I still have a degree of muscle memory so my fingers try to fly over the keys a tempo to hit notes they don’t quite know anymore. 

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