I am a fan of don Miguel Ruiz's simple yet profound masterpiece "The Four Agreements." It serves as a basic guide for any and all interactions with others. I couldn't imagine making it any easier than to take four statements and apply them to how I am in relationship to others and my endeavors in this world. I highly recommend any of Mr. Ruiz's works, which can be found here on his website. His Four Agreements are based on ancient Toltec wisdom. Just like the ancient science of yoga, they have stood the test of time. So, I began to think of how these four statements might be applied to one's yoga practice.
1) Be impeccable with your word....
So what happens when you step onto the yoga mat in a class? While a teacher might guide you or some background music or other people might distract you, you have a golden opportunity to hear your own self-talk. What do you say to yourself on the mat? What type of words do you choose? How do you respond when a challenging pose is presented? Do you cheer yourself on or do you tear yourself down? In the quiet moments at the beginning of class or the last momemts of shavasana (corpse pose), what thoughts float through your head?
In integrating the First Agreement to your yoga practice, you have an opportunity to greet negative self-talk or that harsh inner critic with a new language.
Instead of "See, I knew I couldn't balance! I look like an idiot" you get to befriend your tree pose with "I love feeling my ankle grow stronger each time I try."
Rather than "I can't stand how ugly my feet are!" you get to whisper "Toes! Thank you for all the miles you have traveled with me on this Journey."
Perhaps the next time you are on the mat you can notice what self-talk shows up and see if this First Agreement allows you to soften any of the more critical and negative statements you make. Choosing your words impeccably during your practice can indeed open up the pathway to love, compassion and acceptance.
2) Don't take anything personally....
Oh, you rascally ego you! Did your ego just freeze or rebel? The yoga studio and the yoga community have just as many social exchanges as any other setting. And just because you know how to breathe or stand on your head doesn't mean that that sneaky ego doesn't try to follow you on to the mat. When we realize that it is only me, myself and I on the yoga mat and that all others are not there with me, how liberating that can be! But how fleeting that realization is at times! "I get it! I get it! Ahhhh, it's gone!” Not taking things personally takes a lot of time, patience, and practice. When I find myself on my yoga mat, spinning a story about how my coworker disrespected me, or I didn't get the promotion I know I was qualifed for, I loop back to #1 and pay close attention to my self-talk. I sometimes 'get it' that it is not all about me. But when I don’t, I practice the impeccability of my self-talk language. It's a loop I cycle through quite frequently but it seems to be paying off. I hope you will give it a try, too.
3) Don't make assumptions
Well, okay — just one assumption. At the beginning of any yoga practice, assume that our body has much information to share. Take the time to mindfully attune to the various muscle, tendons, ligaments, joints, organs, etc that comprise our very complex being. In hindsight, I believe that all of my yoga-related injuries came from not practicing this valuable 3rd Agreement with my body. I falsely assumed that my body could do what it did a week ago, or 20 years ago. I falsely assumed that just because the teacher said it was what I should be doing with my body that I overrode the body wisdom and ended up with a strain. Live and learn, learn and live, and I assume and hope that I can do so with fewer bumps and bruises as I practice.
Not making assumptions can be very helpful in the subtle and not so subtle interactions we have with one another in a yoga class. Allow me to share my perception of an exchange that I witnessed in a yoga class recently. On one mat there sat a dedicated yogini who is very much about her ujjayi or 'ocean' breath. On the mat next to her a student arrived a few minutes late and settled onto his mat, making some noise but obviously trying to be mindful of those around him. He sat on his mat, closed his eyes but as soon as the 'heavy breather' exhaled her next ocean wave, he opened his eyes and glared at her, seemingly unable to focus on his own breath. She never even noticed and kept on practicing. All the while, behind the latecomer, another student hadn't taken a deep breath since the latecomer disturbed his practice. It is not for me to assume what any of these well-intended yoga students are thinking or feeling but it does give us a bird's eye view of how our interactions can cause us to be drawn into other people's business rather than focus on our own. I just always try to 'assume' we are all doing our best and we can always do better.
4) Always do your best
I guess I already covered that at the end of the 3rd Agreement, didn't I? I really appreciate this Agreement. What more needs to be said? No offense Yoda, but I do believe there is a TRY in our yoga practice. We can do our best in being impeccable with our self-talk. We can do our best in not taking it personally. We can do our best in not taking it personally. And we can do our best in doing our best. And, so it will always be.. from the first seated pose to relaxing back into your corpse pose, there are countless opportunities on the yoga mat to take these Four Agreements and explore how they might enhance your yoga practice. I do hope you will give it a try!
See you on the mat sometime soon.