thoughts and musings

Lisa Podemski

The Power of Yoga: The Gift of the Present Moment

by: Lisa Podemski

My ongoing yoga practice helps me stay fully present in the most challenging moments with awareness and vulnerability. It has taught me to live with gratitude and compassion for both myself and others. These lessons are also the teachings of yoga, of which asana (postures or movements) is only one small part. 

This time of year, the transition of one year to the next, is personally very difficult. There are the holidays and my birthday that close out one year and lead into the next. My mother passed away on January 7, 2015. The new year now holds a new significance for me. Last year I graduated from a yoga teacher training program with my teachers Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee fittingly on my mother’s birthday, which closes out January on the 27th. It was my mother who took me on my first yoga retreat 20 years ago and strongly supported and encouraged my continued practice. 

The first line of the Yoga Sutra—the first codification of yoga written around 400 CE—is “And Now Yoga.” Yoga can only ever be practiced in the current moment. As lawyers, our training and our ways of thinking have us focusing on facts, precedents and potential outcomes, all at once. Yoga is such a powerful tool to take us out of our heads and to ground us in the present moment, to bring us into our bodies, our breath, and our hearts. The practice of yoga brings us into the timeless ever present now. In the present moment there is no past to regret and no future to worry about. Of course this is difficult for us to accommodate—it is indeed a practice. We get there in each moment at any amount and there is always another moment to try again. 

The second Sutra suitingly continues with the precept loosely defined as: Yoga steadies the fluctuations of the mind. As lawyers, we dwell in those fluctuations. There are no Jedi mind games at this point (those come in the third chapter of the Yoga Sutra). We are not actively quashing memories or suppressing thoughts, but we are freeing ourselves from the suffering caused by our attachment to our stories, and the judgements we assign them. 

At its most elemental, the most basic standing asana Tadasana or Mountain Pose is illustrative of the power of mindful movement to ground us in the present. Many advanced teachers say that Tadasana is one of the most difficult asanas to get right. Tadasana is found in each and every standing poses, including the inverted ones. We are steady and strong as a mountain, grounded as a tree with its roots reaching deep into the earth. The deeper the roots, the more upward growth and expansiveness is possible. 

There are many minute instructions and constant shiftings that take place to bring us into and keep us in Tadasana. We must indeed exert effort to make it then effortless. In getting there, our minds are first distracted by all the precise anatomical directions and then when our continuous microadjustments bring us into our bodies and out of our heads into the present moment, we are more at ease with a freer breath and a more open heart. Asana paired with even the simplest breath awareness practice of just noticing the breath with as little manipulation as possible trains us to watch what is happening without desire or aversion. 

The power of yoga is a gift which enables us to be content in the present moment both on and off the mat. When we are present and open with our own suffering, pain or joy, without judgement, we open ourselves to healing and love that reaches beyond ourselves. This compassion is a foundation of yoga and the unity and one-ness of all beings. By allowing our hearts to break we become vulnerable and that vulnerability can generate so much love, compassion and empathy for ourselves, our friends and families, coworkers and clients without attachment to the outcome. This is a practice and every moment is a new opportunity to do any amount. As Brene Brown has said, “Compassion is not a virtue—it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have—it’s something we choose to practice.” 

It is all a practice. 

Practicing yoga beside my mother’s hospice bed in her bedroom in the first days of the new year before she passed enabled me to be fully present in what was happening both to her and to me. With continued practice I am able to be more present with my clients who are going through traumas of their own. As Pema Chodron wrote, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times).

This is yoga.