Every class, Susan (not her real name) rushed into class just as we were starting. She put her coffee, huge purse, and phone that she'd been talking on until she walked through the door on the floor and then unrolled her mat with a "Thwack!" as it slapped the floor. She noisily sat down and fidgeted for a few moments as I guided the class into a centering, mindful space to start the class.
Throughout class, Susan pushed herself hard. Whatever instruction I gave, she took it beyond. It was as if no one was allowed to be better than her. But by the end of class, post meditation, she'd softened. She moved a little slower as she gathered her stuff. She often smiled and joked. She would thank me every class and say something to the effect of, "I feel so much better! I don't know what I'd do without yoga!"
It that really working?
That's often how it works, from stressed out to blissed or back to stressed out. As a culture, we've become excellent at the asana practice. We've embraced detoxification, or at least to a degree, and yet even as yoga evolved to close to a billion dollar industry, we're more neurotic than ever!
We've learned to use yoga as a band-aid, a crutch. It makes us feel good, so we keep doing it. Any physical movement will make you feel better. Yoga adds breath work and meditation, so it adds an extra layer. But what happens as you start to turn on the parts of you that were turned down, when you start to feel again, when you start to realize that yoga is shifting you and the question of "who am I now and who am I becoming?" starts to collide with the very things that kept you going before? There comes a moment when you realize you're sick of the stress-bliss-stress cycle and you want t do something about it. Susan loved her yoga, but she knew there were bigger changes needed.
Beyond the asanas
The wisdom of yoga offers ways to strengthen, purify, calm, and stabilize the body and mind. The yamas offer a reflection of our true nature; precepts into aims for living. The niyamas offer was to evolve into harmony with our true nature. Pratyahara provides is a way to step away from the chaos to be present with that is being revealed and what is ready for harmony or healing. It offers ways to come into your own personal wholeness.
When we practice these things, it energizes us, makes us more powerful. The problem is if we're only practicing parts and not all, we get more energy and power to those very things we may not want! Look around the yoga community. How many enlightened yogis do you know?
When you start to really practice yoga, you start to skillfully engage in the world around you. You surrender what isn't making you feel more alive and feed what does make you feel more alive. You recognize that you can't just do a little and expect big changes. That expectation leads to exhaustion, frustration, and even depression because though change is desired, the fear of change is greater.
Yoga and meditation give us space to open a little, let the light shine into the dark, shadowy parts with in us. Just like a sidewalk that has a crack where weeds grow, there is a greater intelligence within seeking life. From the depths of the shadows, a little light sparks life. With willingness, time, and space, that life can be explored and action or healing can take place.
Yoga is so much more than fancy mats, tight clothes, green juice, contortion, self-righteousness, and chanting. Yoga is about freedom to be whole, authentic, playful, peaceful, and most of all, engaged in living.
A simple mindfulness practice
Try this simple mindfulness practice to begin creating space within you.
- Set a timer for five minutes.
- Sit comfortably, preferable with a straight back. Take a few breaths and just simply notice them moving in and out of the body.
- Remember something beautiful or joyful- it could be a scene from nature such as a sunset or scenic view, someone you love, a song or poem. Hold that memory and see if you can feel it as if you were there experiencing it in the present moment.
- Just breath and be with the beauty. As you mind wanders, simply observe. Do you need to take action or heal something or simply recognize the thought? Can you return to the beauty? If yes, do. If no, that's okay. Go take action on what you need to do.
- If you are able to return to beauty, hold it until another thought comes and again, explore if action, healing or recognition is needed. If possible return to beauty or go take action. Repeat. See if you can remain in this space for five minutes.
- At the end of the five minutes, how do you feel? Notice your states of restfulness and restlessness you experienced and offer gratitude for the opportunity to be aware. Take action on what needed action. Take steps on what needs healing.
Though a simple mindfulness practice, this is a powerful practice when repeated daily. You get to know yourself better. You shine a light and allow life to grow. Even this five minute practice will create a ripple effect on the world around you. Combine it with a yoga asana practice and you may find yourself wanting to go even deeper into the spaciousness. Imagine the waves you could create from that spaciousness!