Kindness, Competition and Kramas

Girl with Open Hands, Indonesia

The concept of kindness is one of my favorite themes as a yoga teacher, woman, lover, daughter, friend, mentor, human being.  I share it with clients and practice it daily, believing that “those random acts of kindness” have a positive impact on our planet.

But too often kindness is stamped out by competition, with the obsessive drive of others to reach success at any cost.  For me, being a graduate of a top 10 law school manifested this splendidly, but simply living in the U.S., with our uber-motivated, achievement-driven culture, means that competition fits many of us like a second skin.  We encourage and reward this.  We thrive on the drama.  We love winning.  I get it.  I’ve lived it, too.

But I’ve also picked up something else along the way:  we can’t win every time, every thing.  We simply cannot maintain the fast pace without it taking a toll on our entire being.  It might be indigestion today or neck knots tomorrow, but remember that whole “leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone” idea?  There’s truth in there.

Enter your yoga practice.  It reminds you to treat yourself and others gently, to take care of your body and spirit and find balance in the space that lies between them, to (at least temporarily) trade competition for compassion.  Your time on the mat is like money well spent, filling up your body’s bank accounts.  Even yoga competition lovers seem to all agree that, while a posture (and even pranayama) can be judged on its proximity to perfection, the other components of a true yoga practice – mindfulness, calm, yamas and niyamas, etc. – remain secret, and sacred, to the student as an individual.

To further illustrate the idea that your mat isn’t a competitive stage, utilize the concept of kramas: the building blocks of a yoga practice that offer proper beginning poses as a foundation to set up more advanced poses.  Your yoga teacher can guide you, but an example is practicing a forearm balance (with feet on the ground) before forearm stand (with legs in the air).  When you’re ready, you take it up a notch.  When you’re injured, or tired, or something else changes, you can return to the basics.  Yoga is life, that way: the ebb and flow, the 2 steps forward and 1 step back.  Our challenge is to get more familiar and less fearful about these naturally-occurring changes.  Your yoga can actually serve as a physical manifestation of this understanding.  How cool is that?

So the next time you step into your place of practice, be kind.  Try a basic krama.  Direct your energy – your positive energy – towards your mat alone, without entering fellow yogis in a race.  Be driven by enjoyment.  Fill your accounts.  Find your motivation in the desire, instead of just the desire to win.  It may be just the focus you need.

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