Just as I was about to roll out my yoga mat yesterday morning my 5-year-old daughter Molly walked into the room. She woke up two hours earlier than usual and, despite my encouragement, didn’t want to go back to sleep. She was upset because a small, stick-on ‘jewel’ that she had gone to bed with on the back of her hand, had fallen off and she couldn’t find it in the bed. This is grounds for becoming inconsolable at the age of five!

I calmed her down and promised (actually I DOUBLE-PROMISED!) that I would find it as soon as her little sister woke up in the lower bunk.

Then I had a decision to make. Do I start my yoga practice and make her wait until I’m finished, maybe give her some colouring to do? Or do I be with her and spend some quality time with just the two of us?

I chose the quality time and we snuggled up under a blanket on the couch and I read “Daisy And The Trouble With Piggy Banks” to her for a full hour. Molly likes chamomile tea so we had some of that and then it was almost time to wake Anna (the almost-three-year-old) and get the day started properly with breakfast, hair-brushing, teeth-brushing etc. etc. etc…

So I skipped a day of practice.

Despite the fact that the choice I made is the patently selfless and compassionate one, I still have the small gnawing feeling that I’m a sort of ashtanga yoga delinquent for missing a day of practice.

The institution being represented by the man who is visiting Dublin this weekend might have something to do with the installation of those guilty feelings into my consciousness but let’s not get into that here!

I feel like, over the years, as ashtanga yoga practitioners we can be prone to swaying gently but surely between periods of over-exertion and periods of under-exertion. We might spend a couple of years practising really hard, pushing our bodies and minds to their limits on a daily basis. That can be a lot of fun, especially when we’re young and full of vibrancy, but it can also sometimes lead us towards injury and burn-out. Then we might spend another couple of years becoming a bit less energetic in our daily practice. We might do fewer asanas, or do them in a much gentler way and we might miss a day of practice here and there.

It seems to me to be a cyclical thing, akin to the cycles of inhalation and exhalation that we perform through our yoga practice and, indeed, our entire lives. Inhale is effort, exertion, energy, drawing in vitality. Exhale is relaxation, softening, surrender. The cycles of prana and apana happen not just on a minute by minute basis but also over the course of years and even lifetimes.

The idea that someday we will find the perfect balance is, I believe, a myth and I’m starting to think of balance as being something to be achieved over longer periods of time. Nothing is in stasis, everything is in flux and this too shall pass. A period of intensity will be balanced by a period of restfulness.

So I feel, for sure, that I’m in an apana period in my asana practice and, as much as I would like to engage in a long, strong, energetic practice every morning, I must accept and embrace the reality of my daily life.

And anyway, the blanket snuggles with Molly were great 🙂

Keep practising. Don’t stop. But just do what you can.