YOGA OFF THE MAT: How my Day Job Pushes my Practice
I am a yoga student. I am a yoga teacher. I am a Corporate American.
And I am learning how to embrace the intersection of all of the above.
Every Tuesday and Friday morning, my alarm sounds at 4:15 AM. After a quick tap of the “OFF” button, I step out of bed content (albeit a little sleepy), put the kettle on to make some tea, throw on a pair of yoga pants, and head to Better Buzz Yoga to teach a 6:00 AM power vinyasa flow class. I leave after class feeling full, inspired, grateful and ready to make the short drive downtown to my day job.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning, my alarm goes off at 5:15 AM. After several quick taps of the “SNOOZE” button, I stumble out of bed groaning (still very sleepy), put the kettle on to make some tea, stare into my closet blankly for three – five minutes dreading the thought of putting on dress pants, and head to my day job to work for nine to ten hours. I leave after work feeling drained, exhausted, and ready to surrender to the couch . . . Until recently.
Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do. Moreover, I love the people I work with. While a proverbial desk job is not a place I ever imagined or foresaw myself landing, I have found myself working alongside ingenious, talented, and hard-working individuals for a company whose message I firmly believe in. All in all, it’s not a bad gig, and I know how fortunate I am to be where I am.
But, as anyone who is in the work force knows, there are a few certain, inalienable truths that come with working alongside a diverse group of people with different ideas, perceptions, and perspectives. People will be disorganized and incommunicative. Projects will fall by the wayside. Conversations will be tense. And stress will do its absolute best to infiltrate, making people more incommunicative, projects more difficult, and conversations more tense.
I have, unfortunately, fallen victim to this narrative time and time again.
I found myself, particularly on the mornings I don’t teach before my day job, heading to work feeling somewhat despondent, asking myself, “Can’t I just teach every day?” “Do I have to leave my bed?” “Can I just practice yoga all day instead?” And it’s not because I don’t love my job. Rather, it’s because work, as we all know, can have the tendency to breed stress. At least, at first glance . . .
It was only after a few rough weeks at work, which forced some serious introspection, that I realized it’s not my job that breeds stress so much as it is me creating stress for myself through my reactive nature to every day, common workplace trials and tribulations.
I was comparing the feeling I get while teaching yoga to the feeling I get after a day at the office, totally negating the fact that, at surface level, these are two totally different experiences. In fact, being compensated for each is about the only unifying thread between the two. But, you know what?
It shouldn’t be.
One of my most beloved yoga teachers drills a concept into my brain nearly every time we met:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
No wonder I was feeling stuck at my day job. I was comparing the yoga studio to the cubicle. I was comparing blasting Earth, Wind, and Fire during eagle-arm crunches to inputting data on spreadsheets. OF COURSE I was feeling defeated at my day job. (I don’t care who you are or what you do, moving to funk music will ALWAYS beat working on a spreadsheet.) And as I made these comparisons, not only was I creating stress for myself, but I was absolutely circumventing one of the founding principles, and moreover one of the very basic definitions of, yoga: union.
Instead of harnessing the levity, the strength, the inspiration, the motivation, the grounding, that teaching and practicing yoga instills in me and bringing it with me to day job to make myself and my workspace a better place, I let these two experiences exist as siloes.
Instead of holding onto the resilience and flexibility that yoga teaches me, I found myself wavering at the first signs of challenge in the office, becoming distracted, uninspired, and derailed at the first sign of something, be it a deadline or a project, not working in my favor.
Despite knowing fully that teaching and practicing yoga equips me with the patience, the gratitude, and the ability to adapt, work through, and let go of that which does not serve, I found myself time and time again suffering at stress of my own-making.
And I was reminded of a Chinese proverb, that I have since printed and taped to one of my computer monitors at work, that concisely and precisely summed up my predicament.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
Not only was I negating what yoga teaches me on the mat by not taking it off the mat with me . . . I was allowing my self-created tension to dictate the course of my days at the office. I saw myself devolving to a less creative, more tense, less productive, more inefficient version of myself.
As I sat my desk stewing in a homebrew of self-pity and stress, I began to become more cognizant of the conversations going on around me at the office. While the verbiage varied slightly, much of what I heard was something along these lines.
“How’s it going?” “It’s okay. I’m getting through it.”
“How are you?” “I’m alright. Wish it was Friday.”
“What’s up, man?” “Just counting down the days.”
And then it hit me . . .
How much time have I wasted just getting through it, wishing it was Friday, counting down the hours to yoga practice or to time spent in the studio teaching when at the end of the day, I am the only one who can alter my perspective, all wishing aside?
What if I spent less time wishing I was on my yoga mat practicing, and more time practicing what I am taught when I am on the mat?
What if, instead of wishing I was in the studio while I am at the office, I brought some of the creativity cultivated in the studio into the workplace?
What if I made a cognizant effort to be a student and teacher of yoga, always, not just in the studio?
While seeking the answer to these questions comes more easily some days than others, there is one thing I know for certain: While I have long known that yoga has the ability to completely transform my perspective in the studio, if I allow it, its reach is capable of stretching so much farther than just four corners of my mat.
And that is, to me, one of the most beautiful elements of this practice . . . the way it is constantly pushing me, both on, and sometimes more significantly, off the mat.