Off the Mat: Homework Time
We’ve made it through another September. Once again, I successfully avoided the back to school shopping circus with my kid. Not yet fashion conscious, his drawer full of t-shirts proved sufficient. Still Minecraft obsessed, he made no request for a new backpack. And wondrously, our district provides the essentials: loose-leaf, composition books, and a stocked pencil box. I was shocked to discover this during Kindergarten orientation years back; teachers, not parents provide school supplies?! Really??! Really. In our well-resourced town, the system provides the necessary study tools.
School came easily for me as a child. I did well without much effort. Until college. I finished eventually, but not without a little extra time and a lot of extra angst. Twenty years later – and a decade ago now – I began pursuing my current profession and line of study, yoga, mindfulness and healing modalities. The first week of yoga teacher training included an anatomy intensive. I was amazed at how quickly and easily my mind absorbed information about muscle mechanics while I was moving my body instead of staring at a lecture screen. My body provided the necessary study tools.
Last school year, I (finally!) completed my body work and Reiki teaching certifications. Briefly, I considered pursuing the next level of yoga teacher training or another in-depth healing course. But I paused. Instead, I committed to step back from course work and instead to go deeper with the tools I have.
One month into this school year, I regularly have to remind myself of this intention. How do I keep this commitment to study with no external assignment holding me to it? In theory, I can study on my own. I can read the masters – women like Devi, Chodron, Kempton, Judith – and apply their teachings to my life and work. Practically, the moments for reading and introspection get quickly filled with laundry and lunch making, and the myriad of other external commitments populating my to-do list. When I enroll in (and let’s be honest, pay for) a course, I make the time. Now that my commitment is wholly internal, qualms arise. Self-study feels self-centered. Self-indulgent.
And yet I strive to live my life from a place of mindful awareness. I know yoga to be more than physical stretches, to be a practice that keeps me connected, mind body and spirit. Lately, my racing mind and sluggish body and…spirit? Oh yes, don’t forget spirit. Well, such signs point to the need to fulfill my internal commitment. To do my homework.
Yoga philosophy names svadyaya, or self-study, as one of the ten pillars for authentic living. Originally, svadyaya referred to chanting sacred texts or mantras. Modern scholars have expanded this, for better or worse, tying svadyaya into the self-help culture.
Modern shaman Alberto Villodo encourages “study to know your own nature and cultivate wisdom.” Yoga Master Nischala Joy Devi defines svadyaya as the study of scripture, nature and introspection, then quotes Rabbi Hillel, “Study brings us wisdom. Wisdom brings us life.” Sanskrit scholar Nicholai Bachman advises reading, listening, observing ourselves in action. “We may or may not like what we discover,” he cautions. Yet when we can look at ourselves insightfully, we are better able to grow our strengths and address our shortcomings.
While my habit of procrastinating by cleaning may have appealing outcomes, it is worth observing. My inner critic demanding professional “should” before exercise deserves curious attention. My interactions with challenging community members provide opportunities to find compassion.
My homework becomes applying the pillars of yoga philosophy – nonviolence, cleanliness, truthfulness, gratitude – to whatever life sets before me. At work. With my family and myself, my body, my home. This human experience provides the necessary study tools.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. www.ginnyhamilton.com