Over Labor Day weekend I went to the Shambala Mountain Center in Colorado. I was actually looking at yoga retreats when the retreat title "Running with the Mind of Meditation" caught my eye. I had just started running again the month before. After 10 months of intensive yoga teacher training where all of my spare time was spent doing yoga, thinking about yoga and studying yoga, I was happy to add a different but familiar practice to my life. Plus I still got to do yoga because the retreat included yoga for runners every day.
My main goal for the retreat was to find out how I could make my yoga practice and my running practice overlap more (and thus save time - ha), but more importantly, I wanted to make sitting meditation part of my daily routine. I haven't had time of late to go to one of the meditation centers in the area, so I was grateful to a couple of my yoga teachers for adding 20 minutes of meditation before class. Lately, I haven't even been able to make it to those classes, and my sense of feeling burnt out from a year that has been all about training has increased. During the retreat I found myself sharing that I started my yoga practice over 10 years ago by setting aside 5 minutes a day for practice. It struck me that I could start to develop a meditation habit in much the same way. It also helped that in a yoga teacher forum, someone recommended the "Insight Timer" phone app, something so simple that would never have occurred to me. The timer takes away the need to look at a clock, and the chimes are less jarring than an alarm clock. I think that the key to developing a regular practice of anything is to find what works for you and your daily life. It simply won't work if you think you should do something that works for someone else. I used to be "too busy" to meditate, and now funnily enough, I find that meditation gives me more time.
A few of the themes of the retreat were unconditional confidence, being gentle with oneself, and bringing the mind of meditation into any activity. Sakyong Mipham, the leader of the Shambala lineage, started the Running with the Mind of Meditation retreats, and he talks about how nothing can replace a sitting practice, and yet the more we practice, the more we can bring the mind of meditation into anything we do.
We did one 30 minute meditative run each day. There were a number of marathoners in the group, so a group would go running early in the morning to get in some extra running. For me the 30 minute run was enough. We would start with an incline that went up about 500 feet, and I would struggle for breath during the first mile. By the time we reached the Great Stupa, I had to walk up the steps. At first I regarded this as a failure, until I saw it as an opportunity to do a walking meditation. Someone had mentioned that walking around the Stupa 3 times can correspond to 3 principles, such as thought, speech, and action - a concept I often work with in my yoga practice. So I started walking around the Stupa 2 times, and the 3rd time represented action, so I would resume the run at that point. The last part of the run would then become effortless somehow, even on the final day when we ran farther.
I was challenged by one of the marathoners to recognize the difference between competitiveness and comparativeness. I noticed him running near me one day, and I thought how on earth could he be running near me? He is a real runner, and I am not! Because I didn't think of myself as an athlete, I didn't think of myself as competitive. And yet there I was comparing myself to a marathon runner (who has also done Iron Mans) and deciding that he wouldn't be interested in anything I would have to say. He didn't let me get away with it though, and I had to think about how I have been struggling with confidence as a yoga teacher, I realize that I have been comparing myself to my yoga teachers and finding myself to be unworthy of the privilege to teach yoga. How long have I known that yoga teaches us that we are each doing our own practice on the mat (or on a running trail), and it is not about what anyone else is or isn't able to do? Thankfully, as yoga teachers we can continue to practice this lesson on the mat as well as off.
I have become friends and now colleagues with many of the yoga teachers whom I admire. But I finally understand that continuing to put them on pedestals instead of regarding them as my equals does them a disservice. Looking up to them and comparing myself to them allows me to feel that I am still not good enough as well as disregard what I have to offer my own students. I forget where the quote comes from, but it serves no one to play small. Comparing, judging, assuming - are all great excuses for not showing up authentically and recognizing the beauty of what you have to offer this world.