My body is my great teacher. It always tells the truth.
The oldest living spiritual tradition in the world, yoga means union. In its most broad interpretation, yoga is a philosophy of life which states that everything is connected to everything else. Organs and limbs function in relationship to one another. We share breath with everything around us; we breathe in and the trees breathe out. Our true nature is awareness and we have the capacity to be aware that we are aware virtually all of the time. Buddha said, “Do not seek enlightenment; rather cease not to cherish beliefs.” Patanjali, the founder of traditional yoga and credited for writing the Yoga Sutras, stated that we are prisoners of our beliefs. Beliefs become habits. A regular yoga practice could be called ‘replacement therapy,’ where we trade in old habits or beliefs for ones that better serve ourselves and the world around us.
My experience of yoga and life tells me that I’m either able to simply observe what I have going on internally or I’m deeply entrenched in thoughts, so much so that I’m actually mixing up the present with impressions from the past. When the weather within is clear, I’m able to be present. Being present is inherently joyful and does not rely on specific external circumstances. Then there is the rest of the time when I’m hunkered down in the land of forgetfulness, making stuff up about the ‘way it is out there.’ Regular practice shortens the time I’m in the habit of forgetting that my thoughts are just thoughts.
My asana practice on the mat serves as a metaphor for the qualities I’m working to bring forth in my everyday life. Placing my feet on the mat I become a little more grounded. Bringing attention to how I stand brings into question what I stand for. Opening across the front of my chest and extending my arms wide calls into question my capacity for giving to anyone who enters my sphere. The way I’m breathing tells me about the emotions I’m harboring. How I move, what I’m thinking about is all up for consideration on the laboratory that is my mat.
On the mat I like to go where I haven’t been before, constantly challenging what I’m capable of physically, so when I’m not on the mat, I feel ok about being a little uncomfortable as well. When I go places I haven’t been, even if it’s scary, there is elation with breaking through what I thought I was capable of. While I like a sweaty challenging vinyasa series, I equally value being able to sit for long periods of time in one posture. I like to do what my mind resists so that I can find out on a regular basis that I’m not who I thought I was. There is this ability to be simply aware and in that, all thoughts, emotions and action exist on top of this field of awareness which is inherently joyful. The experience of this dynamic field behind everything, the proverbial and often overused metaphor of the ‘blank canvas’ is enhanced experientially through the practice of yoga.
I often say that yoga has its way with people. Before you know it and with consistent practice, your life changes and you find yourself more patient, capable of a deeper love, more joyful, more able to bring compassion and strength to those who need it. There is no time more valuable than the deep exploration of being a human being in a body and while my classes sometimes feel like a masochistic circus, this is truly what we are doing, exploring being and becoming bigger than we thought possible.