My Journey of Coming Home
"Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita
When one hears the word yoga what comes to mind? Oh, I’m not flexible. I've heard it more times than I can count. Speaking of the mind isn't that where we all really need to be a little bit more open and flexible? There are so many misconceptions of yoga I hardly know where to begin but I'll give it a go as I’m on a mission to clarify what yoga truly is and why I love teaching it!
I've been practicing yoga since I first discovered it, back in my early 20's, and the way I practice now, 20+ yrs later, has morphed dramatically from when I first started. Like many I was attracted to the physical benefits and exercise of yoga. It looked graceful and strong and can give you those beautiful, long, lean muscles - who wouldn't want that? So I went again and again to sweat, move and breathe. Practicing yoga consistently started to become a form of moving meditation for me. Gradually my mind began to clear, my inner body became cleansed and my quest for more meaning and purpose in my life emerged within me. I carried with me a heightened sensitivity and people who were zapping my positive energy or not on the "good health bandwagon" began to fall by the wayside. I became aware of myself and my life in a new way. I saw there were some things I didn't like, both my inner and outer worlds needed editing, and it was up to me, and only me, to address them. So indeed yoga can and will change your life. I can't promise you that it will be easy, but I can guarantee that it will be worth it.
I came to realize that though I loved doing all the poses they were only a single branch on the great big tree of all that yoga is.
Yoga literally means "joining together" - the body, mind and spirit, “yoking" if you will, establishing "union", ONENESS, so we are able to feel a sense of equanimity and peacefulness, our inherent wholeness vs. feeling fragmented, separated, disembodied and stressed out! Yoga helps to clear the sludge, the physical and mental roadblocks, and bring us back to our true home within, our inner sanctuary deep within our own tender hearts - the seat of our soul, what is not changing amid the whirlwinds of life.
That, to me, is the ultimate goal of yoga. When we are in a harmonious state of being. The practice of yoga "unites" the physical with the energetic - the outermost layer of our being with our innermost layers and brings us home to our core essence (our bliss body). Of course it requires some form of daily practice to come back to that place, time and time again. The breath is the bridge that brings us there, home to ourselves. Consciously connecting to and cultivating the miracle of breath within us, our life force and life companion - and we can connect to it at any time!
When practiced regularly yoga becomes a way of being by bringing a heightened sense of awareness and mindfulness into our everyday lives, to live with less friction and resistance and more joy and contentment. To be able to take the practice with you off the mat and live and act in a way that elevates not only our own selves but those around us is how we can carry it with us. To speak and act with intention, kindness and compassion and to be, as the Buddha said "a light unto ourselves" and in this way bring our own light back out into the world is to me how we become an advanced practitioner. I know, it's not always easy!
Yoga can certainly be a challenge to the body but it’s not just about putting your body into pretzel-like shapes and twisting it into cartoonish contortions best left to circus performers. It's not about competition, certainly not with oneself, yet isn't that where we tend to struggle the most? Yoga is for everybody, every shape and every age, now isn’t that nice to know! But it’s not a one size fits all practice, so what one individual may be doing next to you may not be what your body or bone structure is even capable of. While our outer alignment is certainly important; the shapes/poses are not goals in and of themselves. We should always leave a practice feeling good, better than when we started - physically, mentally and even emotionally, that is what yoga is all about. Ego truly needs to be set aside when we confront the limitations of what our particular physical form is capable of, on any given day, or the stiffness and limited mobility we may experience due to neglect over the years and simply by living in the world and going about her everyday tasks.
The asanas, or physical part of the practice, are certainly still important to get the kinks and tensions out of the body and to stay mobile, strong and to help keep the body (including the inner organs) healthy but they are not the be all and end all. However, just like a car needs regular maintenance to run smoothly, it’s essential that we take time to slow down to care for this vehicle we've been given. Our physical container is the vehicle that the soul travels around in for this whole lifetime and it needs regular tuneups in order for us to experience a full and happy life.
Yoga is also a discipline and training, or re-wiring, of the mind, which is what ultimately leads to our personal liberation. When we are able to cease identifying with every thought and are able to to embrace our bodies for what they are capable of at any given time and to live more fully in the present, with a sense of purpose and to bring more joy into all that we do - whether that be our yoga practice, job, hobbies, relationships, etc. Our thoughts are continually manifesting how we experience your own reality so it is essential that we learn to be the observer to ourselves, (Svadhyaya) and tend to the garden of our mind - pulling out the weeds and nourishing what we would like to see grow.
What we think about regularly creates feelings which in turn dictate our subsequent actions or choices. I suppose that’s why many can’t get past their first couple of yoga classes. That annoying self-critic chirps every two seconds to remind us of our limitations and tells us we can’t do it and to just quit now and save ourselves the time and frustration. Quieting the mind when encountering those negative thoughts with conscious, coherent breathing and countering those unhelpful thoughts with positive ones and affirmations will help you stick with your practice and stay present. So every time you have an unkind or unhelpful thought shoot back a positive affirmation or create an intention for your practice such as; I am strong, I am present, I am the master of my mind, may I be patient/ at peace - setting an intention for your practice or for your day gives you something to come back to and gives the mind something inspiring to latch onto. An intention or affirmation can be physical or spiritual and can often be very helpful to use along with the breath in focusing the mind and turning down the volume of unnecessary thoughts. You believe what you tell yourself, speak kindly!
And when you start bringing this wonderful new habit of mindfulness and awareness to all moments of your life, with dedicated consistency, you will see that your yoga becomes not only your physical practice but a way of living more fully in the world.
Everything is constantly in the process of evolving, changing, shifting and things and people come in and out of our lives, relationships improve and dissolve, injuries, sickness and ailments happen, jobs change or end, some things become acceptable and other things intolerable. We have the choice to recognize what is truly important to us, and what is not, time and time again, to sink or swim, go with the flow of life or stay stuck in our own little world. Yoga can help us learn to push the “pause” button on our lives enabling us to become present for all the magical little moments, to reflect in gratitude on our everyday blessings rather than on what we feel we lack. Yoga can broaden our perspective, to see the beauty of life all around - the endless sky, a flower, the eyes of a child, to embrace the present moment as it is for it all will pass... the fleeting nature of all things, even our very existence eventually. Life is one time as far as we know, so it is up to only us to welcome each new day and to organize our lives in the best possible way so that we may take charge of our own happiness.
My hope is that yoga can become for you more than what you do with your body. May your practice meet you where you are, as you are, and bring you back into your heart, home to yourself, to the radiant, eternal and unchanging essence of your true Divine nature and inspire you to awaken to your fullest potential, the highest expression of yourself.