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If you hang around the yoga/personal growth/new age/self help world long enough you’re bound to eventually hear someone talk about giving “presence” instead of “presents” during the holiday season. And yes, I’ll use it during my yoga classes this week because it’s just such a cute play on words. But this catch phrase also begs the question, “what is PRESENCE?”

How do we know when we are present? What does it feel like when someone is present with us? And why is it so important, anyhow? As usual I don’t have the answers, folks. All I really know that it is increasingly difficult to be authentically present as we are wired to be on the go and juggling too many people and things. Multitasking is often rewarded in our culture, while slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time is not.

Enter YOGA which asks us to drop all residue of the past and preoccupation with the future and just be with the breath in the present moment. Honestly, this is the most difficult part of the practice. Assign me a one-fingered handstand any day over the task of completely calming my mind.

The very, very first word of the Yoga Sutras is “Atha,” or NOW.

Atha Yoga. Now is Yoga. Yoga is Now. Yoga isn’t over there or when I’ve got these bills paid. Yoga isn’t when I lose 10 pounds or when he apologizes. Yoga is here and now and demands presence.

Yoga asks us, with a sense of urgency, to choose our seats. We must be ready to receive and have relationship with ourselves, as well as others. In this way, we have agency over our lives. The directive of yoga is to show the f*** up. Yoga is both the state of missing nothing AND the technology of how to miss nothing.

Intuitively I feel that the first step to becoming present and really showing up authentically is reverence and humility. With reverence and humility we can be with another person without ulterior motives or agenda. How often does this really happen when you get the extended family together for the holidays, right? The root of the word humility is “humus,” or close to the earth. When we are close to the earth, i.e. humble and reverent, sacred space can open up and magic happens. How does that sound for a Christmas wish?

Here’s a mantra for you: wherever you are is perfect as long as you just show up (insert the expletive if that’s your jam). Your authentic self also happens to be your biggest, brightest and most truly powerful self. Showing up and being present in your authenticity takes abhyasa, or the effort to remain firmly established in ones own true self.  Abhyasa is no cake walk. It is a dedicated practice is cultivated over a long period of time through earnest and reverent energy and great, great love.

If all this deeper yoga stuff sounds daunting, ponder for a moment who you would be without presence? I know in my heart what it’s like to walk around distracted or hiding under my to-do list. I’ve often experienced shrinking into a shell of myself because showing up seems too confronting. This way of being is not only a disservice to myself, but also cheats others of my unique and individual light.

I’ll leave you here with a gift from Martha Graham, the inspirational dancer. She wasn’t a yogi per se, but expresses in these few lines the calling of yoga for true presence this holiday season.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”