What I learned from 150+ days of Yoga: #1, Mountain Pose, or the value of showing up
Unprecedented times have led to unprecedented behaviour, encouraging me to 'hop into something comfy' and join Adriene online from Austin, Texas, on the yoga mat for approximately 20-30 minutes a day. For the past six months, I have immersed myself in an (almost) daily yoga practice, courtesy of You Tube channel Yoga with Adriene.
The personable Adriene Mischler, with her self-deprecating and casual style of teaching, attitude of humility, and Benji the Australian cattle dog, made it easy to keep going with this practice, which saw me powering back to back through 5 of her 30 day challenges, Dedicate, Home, True, Yoga Camp and the recently released Breath. So what did I get out of doing daily yoga practice in the comfort of my own home? I have been reflecting on this with curiosity, and this is what I have decided:
'Flower Mountain Water Breathing' Meditation card from Planting Seeds: Practicing meditation with children by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Mountain Pose: The Value of Showing up
This is really self-evident: if you don't show up, the new behaviour, whatever it is, probably won't happen. Procrastination is an ingrained habit for many of us, and we often try to avoid things that seem difficult or are new. Typically, we wait until we really feel motivated, or until the problem we may be trying to fix is too big to ignore.
The first time I showed up to a yoga class, many years ago, at the suggestion of my friend Christine, I was a young arts student at university in England. I remember feeling awkward, and not at all flexible, but I enjoyed it, and have often attended weekly classes since. As I got older, I started to value the importance of maintaining flexibility, and I noticed the calming effect of yoga on both mind and body.
I was never remotely tempted to try a daily yoga practice at home before, however, although yoga teachers often encouraged it. It took a dramatic change of circumstances, namely working from home during lockdown, and my local yoga studio closing, for me to realise that the only way to continue to access yoga was online. And the online presence of another, in the form of a relatable teacher, was key.
Mountain Pose is a deceptively simple posture: its what our teachers at primary school back in the day would probably refer to as 'standing up straight'. However its quite subtle, as it requires a focus on body awareness, so that the spine is well aligned, with the crown of the head reaching to the sky, feet planted firmly on the earth, and with the weight of the body evenly distributed between 'all four corners of the feet', an expression which is evocative for me of 'all four corners of the earth'.
Mountain Pose from Yoga Pretzels: 50 Fun yoga activities for kids and grownups by Tara Gruber and Leah Kalish
The image of a solid mountain is appealing in its simplicity and strength. I am reminded of the notion of perspective taking, where we try to look at troubling things (like thoughts) in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as if from outside ourselves. One of the best ways to get this perspective is from above, and mountain tops can give us an embodied way to literally have the feeling of being above the chaos of daily life. Its similar to sitting on a plane, and seeing the earth dropping away as we take off, but at the moment, many of us are not able to access that experience. Going into high spots with views can be a great alternative.
Our local mountain in Brisbane, Mt Coot-tha, is often the first place we take visitors, because it gives a panoramic view of the city and surrounding landscape. Mountain pose is often the starting point for other pose sequences, or 'vinyasas'*. It can also mark the end of a sequence, so there can be a sense of completion when we return again to mountain pose.
So I offer this as the first thing I learned from daily yoga: show up on the yoga mat and 'just do it'. Habits become easier with practice, but more on that in another post.
*I would like to give a disclaimer here: I am not a yoga expert, I am writing from the perspective of a yoga participant - apologies to yoga teachers if I get things wrong.