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A single seed can grow a garden (of change)

How a regular yoga practice (however short) can help you build a beautiful life. By Julie Chapman

Close your eyes for a moment, let your body settle, let your breath slow, now imagine a beautiful, lush, colourful, life-giving, connected to earth and air, full of bird song and buzzing bees, nourishing garden. Can you see it? Can you hear and smell it? Oooh, so lovely and fragrant, right? This garden is yours. You can have it, even if your current garden is just a heap of dirt with rocks in it, I promise you, just plant a seed, one seed and tend it, and then, see if you can plant another... look at how tiny a seed is, how can it possibly hold so much energy and potential? But you know it does, that's all it takes, planting a seed and tending it as best you can with what you have.

To tie in to my garden analogy, allow me to tell you a (possibly) familiar story. It's New Year's Eve and my resolution for the new year is to practice yoga every single day for 30 minutes. Now we all know that may be too big of a change for me, but let's see how this story goes. So here I am, January 1st, and I've told all my friends, and I've posed on Facebook: this is my year, I'm doing this! And I truly do feel excited and positive about my plan. My intention is to follow through but what I forget, and what is not part of my equation, is that each of my days is not exactly the same, neither in terms of my schedule within the hours of the day, nor with my physical, mental or emotional state for that day. Everything is variable, which means that every day offers many opportunities, distractions, emergencies, feelings of overwhelm or fatigue that will distract me from my proposed intent to practice yoga for 30 minutes every single day. So then I start to feel bad about myself, even embarrassed, because I told everyone this was my plan; I even made it Facebook official! But here I am with the realities of life challenging my idyllic plan. Thoughts of self-deprecation start to find their way into my internal chatter and tell me things like, 'I don't have the willpower to follow through', or that I just need to make myself more of a priority, or that I'm giving up too easily, or the worst one: that I never should have tried, because of course I would fail again!

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These ideas of self-improvement all work on the round-hole-square-peg theory – where you are the square peg and you need to fit, to make yourself round, to fit the round hole. But what about if we chose something different? What if we could make the hole square too, and have it fit to us?

Back to my story – my failed New Year's resolution – is it a total loss? Should I just give up? Blame myself and feel guilt and shame, and most likely out of embarrassment tell everyone that yoga sucks, it did nothing for me, and I don't have a yoga body anyway, I'm not flexible, I can't meditate! That's crazy! I don't know what I was thinking. I blame the Instagram yoga models!

I would venture that almost all of us have been in this position at least once in our lives. And it's not a fun place to be. But imagine if instead of taking on such a huge change while not factoring in 'life', and not factoring in the square peg, I had chosen instead to take on small steps that maybe only take 5 or 10 minutes of practice on a busy day, but I did it every single day. Is that still failure? No it's not!

(Also, there is no real failure; I hate that word and I find it inaccurate, as even when things don't work out the way you want or plan, there is still something to be taken away that we can learn from, so no failure!)

And here is the magic, for everyone who is reading this thinking, 'well I want to do more than 5 minutes, I can do more, and will do more!' - OK yes, you may do more when you can. All I am saying is: life. And 5 minutes is OK. And no practice is also OK! (Just hopefully not a bunch of no practices in a row, if you can help it.)

Be kind to yourself, be gentle. You can be kind and still reach goals and be motivated and achieve whatever it is you're aiming for. Being kind to yourself is not passive, in fact it's very active! Try it, it's hard. In fact, being kind to yourself could be a lifelong practice all on its own. The magic is that I get to choose what happens next, I get to create my own plan, which will be different from anyone else's, because my plan is now fluid, and it's going to fit me. And each time I practice, whether for 5 minutes or anything more, I am planting a seed... a seed full of potential.

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Again, back to my New Year's resolution story; with the understanding that everything is connected, brain to body but also us to those around us, guess what happens next? I feel guilt, shame and embarrassment. These emotions sit in my body somewhere and also affect my thoughts and how I feel about myself. Maybe they make me think twice about reaching for another goal in the future, maybe they make me lose confidence and I withdraw a little from friends (especially the ones who seem to be nailing their own resolutions!) and maybe I never try yoga again, because I now equate yoga to failure and embarrassment. And guess what? Almost all of that happens without us actually recognising it's happening. Look at the ripple effect, and why? Simply because we forgot to approach our action/intention with kindness. If we had been kind, we wouldn't have tried to fit into the round hole, we would have allowed ourselves the space for interruptions in the schedule and we definitely would have been gentler on those feelings of guilt or shame.

We all deserve a chance to have something beautiful, to create something beautiful and to live in beauty, whatever that means for each of us. We all have a unique experience in life and we can never assume what it's like to live in anyone else's experience however, we all share something that the eye can't see, and that is the immense capacity to change and grow, just like a tiny seed in a beautiful garden. Imagine if 5 minutes of practice equated to a single seed in our imaginary garden, at the end of the year you would have 365 radiant flowers blossoming. That doesn't look like failure to me, that looks like beauty.

Julie Chapman

Julie has a heart-centered style of teaching therapeutic yoga, with the goal of offering women and girls trauma informed restorative care for body and soul.