We all start doing yoga for different reasons. Some of us join a class because our physiotherapist or doctor recommended it for our heart, back or anxiety issues. Some join for the spiritual aspect to reconnect with their higher self, to know themselves and find a meaning or purpose for life.
Whatever the reason, once we step on the mat and start a ‘regular’ practice we are bound to discover patterns and tension previously outside of our awareness. Someone who is in a yoga class for the physical aspect of it, may start getting irritated as the teacher throws little philosophical comments. Another who is into the spiritual side may get impatient at the focus on the physical body and alignments. Whatever the tension may be, on either side of the scale, it shows where our resistance and imbalance lies. Yoga brings balance and that isn’t really a choice, it is what occurs naturally as you persist and practice.
I have seen through my journey how what started on a more spiritual level, wanting to practice for the pure bliss of being and feeling alive has changed over the years and I am now as interested in the physical aspect of yoga. For many the path has been the exact opposite but, how does this really happen? How does yoga balance the being? As we practice regularly, we are bound to hit a boundary. I heard myself, after years of practicing very happily and joyfully on my own and in classes, say ‘how come I can’t bring my chest on the floor in “wide legged forward bend’ and this person next to me who’s never done yoga does it so easily?” What am I doing wrong, implying what’s wrong with me? I managed to shred it very quickly as I knew I wasn’t in yoga for that but, to my surprise this nagging thought persisted. I started blaming the yogic literature, the photos on all magazines related to yoga that showed only the most flexible people who spent much of their lives as dancers, gymnasts etc…I had to find something outside for what was happening inside. I was facing my limitations and I wasn’t happy about it! Who wants limitation when we have been so strongly conditioned to move forward and get better at what we’re doing all the time, to eventually reach perfection? Especially when we’re putting so much energy into it!! In order to keep these thoughts at bay, I had to be much more vigilant and centred during my practice, more connected to my breath and to ‘reality’, otherwise my mind would start leading the show and project false beliefs on ‘reality’. The intention not to give in to the mind’s chatter and keeping my focus on the core of life itself opened up a different door. I started watching my moves differently, going deeper in understanding the mechanics of my movements.
The limitations I found in the physical aspect of yoga which ‘I though I was less interested in’ pushed me to become curious and to study the body more eagerly. I learnt that getting to know the body is a great beginning point to understanding the principles of life. It is tangible, measurable, we can see its patterns, whereas, it is more difficult to say the same about the mind. Through studying the body, I saw that the insights you gain through the understanding of movements and the physical practice are the same insight that help you sail more smoothly towards life. There are no ‘real’ differences between physical and spiritual as one is present in the other. One of the valuable gifts of my studies was that I realized how beautiful, intelligent, awesome the body is (even when the chest doesn’t reach the floor in wide legged forward bend!!). I felt honoured to have witnessed its beauty and blessed to see it live. In the process of finding out ‘what was wrong with me’ I came to see ‘yet again’ that all there is IS magnificence and when I started disliking what I saw on the mat, it was only because I had stopped seeing altogether and, my eyes were closed by veils of self-doubting and ignorance. I am glad and thankful for the thought ‘there must be something wrong with ME’ because it led me to explore life deeper through the physical form. It also showed me that any instant that I believe the thought ‘something is wrong with me’ at that moment something had indeed gone wrong ‘I’d believed a negative thought and used it to close my eyes to reality and step into darkness’.
Between heaven and hell lies only one thought!
Having said all of this, we are human and I know how important it is for us to measure our success. When I see the glitter in someone’s eyes (including mine) when they say “I can do this now” referring to a posture they couldn’t ‘do before’ I know my heart melts and I am happy that they see the benefits of yoga; more often than not, this becomes the only way to judge our progress. In my practice now, I choose these barometers: How present am I? How connected with my breath am I? How focused my mind is in ‘what is’, rather than ‘what could be’? Am I focused on a target or am I focused here? If I were to put all of these barometers away and give you one that incorporates all, it would be: how much expansion I am feeling? The more you feel expansion the more it indicates that you’re in the present, truthfully listening to your body, breathing comfortably, noticing all the inner openings taking place every millisecond. In that relaxed state of being, when you let go of trying to improve upon yourself, life improves you and, it does that in ways your mind couldn’t possibly understand. Trusting life more than trusting the mind is a sweet fruit that results from regular practice!