All I Really Needed to Know in Adult Life, I Learned on the Mat. And Through Dough.

IMG_5274I was a little late in the game, but like many others, I discovered the art of making bread (well, working with dough if I were to be precise) sometime during the big pause that was the pandemic. Whilst I haven’t fallen into the rabbit hole known as tending to a sourdough starter, working with dough has been such a perspective shifting, mindful, present moment experience. In many ways, it feels very similar to how my yoga practice is – a place where I can drop my guard, just breathe, and allow myself to find my flow.

From the alchemy of water, flour, yeast, and salt, I’ve found myself learning about myself and life in quite interesting ways. Here are a few of those life lessons I’ve learned from dough:

IMG_60941. The magic is indeed, in the mess. Brenè Brown, one of my favorite authors and inspirational speakers had once said, “the middle is mess, but it is also where the magic happens”. Working with dough is exactly like that. In that shaggy mess of flour, water, yeast and salt, just before it starts to come together, everything is sticky and messy. Sometimes it feels impossible that it would form into something amazing – especially when it’s your first few times trying a recipe. But somewhere in that mess, magic starts to happen and the gluten starts to develop, the dough not only comes together but magically becomes smooth, elastic and bouncy and before you know it, there’s this thing of beauty that wasn’t there before. Amazing.

2. How it feels, just like asana, is often more valuable than how it looks. When I was newer in my yoga practice, I often found myself chasing the aesthetic of the shape. I’d like to think that’s a common and natural part of the process. Over time, however, I began to understand what many of my teachers would say about how the pose feels rather than the way it looks. Dough can be like that, too. You just know when you’ve kneaded it enough, build enough tension in the ball, and whether it’s done not just by looking at it, but how it feels or gives under your fingers. Whilst the  way it looks can offer information, how it feels offers another perspective. Interesting stuff. In the same way – how it tastes matters more than how it looks!

bread3. Don’t be afraid to take up space. Marianne Williamson put it so well: your playing small does not serve the world. Whilst circumstances may feel limiting, just like this too-small-a-container-for-active-dough, you can take up as much space as you need. 

4. Do the best that you can, but release attachments to the result. Much like in asana, we do the best that we can to explore and experience the shapes or forms, and release attachment to our expectations or how we think it should be. The same can be said about dough. Working with dough, in my opinion, is hard to completely standardize and free up from a degree of error, especially since there are certain factors (such as the weather/humidity, the reactivity of your yeast, etc) that may be out of your control in a home kitchen which can impact the outcome of your dough. You just do your best and let the dough do the rest 🙂

IMG_93265. There’s a difference between doing the work, and letting the work do what it needs to do. In this very competitive and output oriented world we navigate in, there is a premium placed on working hard and pushing yourself past the limits. Working with dough reminds me that there is a fine line between giving it my all and moving towards the point of diminishing returns. When I go beyond that optimal level of capacity when making a loaf of bread, for example, I end up with a dense and tight loaf. Whilst edible, it tends to be less enjoyable. On the mat, we end up spent rather than energized. In life, instead of finding our flow and landing in that zone of fabulousness, as my teacher Jo Buick put it once, we end up flaming out and exhausted.

920C65B2-90BC-4444-9161-295D72D1781F6. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, good things come from rest. Off of the mat, many of us, myself included, tend to live a very hurried life. There’s always a sense of pressure to keep pushing, to keep going, and to prioritize action over rest. My yin teacher would always quip, in fact, if only we were paid to rest, perhaps more people would do it. The structure of capitalism and the systems that drive modern society shun the slow, unhurried pace. Whilst I will not deny modern conveniences (like instant yeast hehe) can make things easier, making dough reminds me of the value of stepping back. Of being patient, Of letting things be. Of embracing the yin side and letting things rest. It is in this rest phase that the fullness of that magic that started in the mess comes to life, after all. So yes, rest. Be like dough and find that lightness from within that is borne out of rest. Don’t wait till your dead to rest – it’s no good then.

Thanks for reading along. Now off to make some bread. Maybe a sourdough starter soon. Rawr.

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