Our paths TO yoga are as wide and varied as our paths IN yoga. Some of us begin because of family influence, while others may intentionally turn away from cultural heritage. We embark with goals of fitness, health or serenity – sometimes all three. Some of us experience love at first sight and many more keep trying until the right school, teacher or practice finds us. A few, like me, actually get their first experience of God. Whatever brought us there, however, is rarely what keeps us there.
What does it matter why we practice? As long as we do then it's all good, right? Well, unfortunately, it's very easy (and common) to use the practice to reinforce the habits and behaviors we are trying to overcome. The overly stressed pick the most vigorous practices, bringing a sense of striving and competitiveness; the under-stimulated shy away from testing their limits. Either way, the practice becomes exercise or rest – certainly not growth.
Have you ever been in a yoga class battling anger, boredom, judgment, even rage? Maybe it wasn't the teacher or practice you came for, maybe someone else was in your spot, maybe there were no more clean towels. Did you feel yourself reacting, unable to stop the progression of the story or the emotion? Did it feel like a continuation of everything you experience in your 'real' life? Sometimes we get the gift of consciousness and clarity, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we find a receptacle to unload these feelings (teacher, owner, family), sometimes they are absorbed into our cells much like the food we eat.
We may find these thoughts and feelings arising out of our response to who is leading the class. Do you ever ask – Am I here for the teacher or for the practice? Have I come to be recognized or just to be? Have I come to idolize or to actually see myself? It's a very common trapping – to get so wrapped up in the person of a teacher that we forget that this is a journey we must ultimately take on our own. To find guides that help us along the way is invaluable. To substitute their thoughts and voice for our own can be a means to deep suffering. Teachers are human, too (don't know if you realized that), and sometimes act in truly reprehensible ways. (Personal experience on this one…) Sometimes their light shines so brightly, it is unmistakable. Is it possible to see more clearly our own behaviors and motivations, to better align with energies that promote our growth?
The yoga class is a perfect little model of what happens outside the sacred doors of the studio. If we can't find equanimity and balance in this environment, how do we expect to manage life's events – traffic, job loss, divorce, death?? Can we use that time in the 'yoga laboratory' to really examine who happens to be there, on the mat? Do we bring with us those thoughts that consistently bring us discontent, discomfort, dis-ease and despair? Do we carry within our beautiful bodies the same ego-mind craziness that led us on this search for solace? Did we perhaps pack alongside our yoga mat that instinct that keeps us like sharks, unable to slow down or stop, constantly needing a target and the 'fix' of adrenaline? It might be fair to ask how much 'stuff' we brought with us to class!!
If we come to yoga to know ourselves, than there is no way around the requirement to STOP… to breathe as if our lives (and sanity) depended on it… and to observe and acknowledge our habitual thoughts and behaviors. Believe me, it's much easier to breathe thru a discontent in a yoga class than to learn it in an argument with your spouse.
I believe that change begins at the level of the individual. One person makes one decision to say no to habit, reaction and 'how it's always been'… to realize that just as we choose our habits – including our movements, patterns, preferences and even addictions – we can un-choose them. To choose not to condemn yourself for not 'achieving' a posture is likely easier than conquering something like alcoholism, but it certainly can be challenging in the moment.
The solution starts with the same small voice letting you know you are bigger, better, more glorious than what your thoughts had led you to believe. Begin by bringing your reactions, addictions and aversions into the classroom to be set free – recognized, appreciated and released. Find the space within a moment of breath to see your own methods, madness and marvels. Allow the seeds of the practice to bear their sweet, beautiful fruits of freedom. Approach your practice with an open mind (and an even more open heart). What can I learn from this experience – not from the teacher, but from my own responses and reactions? What can I take home with me even if every single thing goes 'wrong' – wrong teacher, temperature, music, students and series of postures? How can I be ok with what is??
Don't be fooled - there's nothing passive about this form of acceptance. It actually requires a hero's dose of courage. The bravery lies not in seeing what's outside of you, but in feeling what's inside of you without reacting to it. The ability to find even the smallest amount of discernment between 'I am angry' and 'I am feeling anger' can make a world of difference. Peace lies in knowing that every moment provided to you is a gift, no matter what story the ego-mind conjures up. Perhaps there's even the possibility to find humor in that wacky internal voice. Life is too short to get caught in the drama. Let's instead cultivate the wisdom to own up to our own divinity. Let it shine!!!
Pascale's magically delicious journey from NY dancer to MIT engineer to Global Spiritual Teacher turned this once sad, shy girl into a bold soul who regularly waves her magic wand to turn suffering into grace. Ultimately, all her work is about harnessing the power of Using Eastern mysticism, Western psychology and modern day personal development practices to unlock transformational potential. You can find Pascale's guidance on the journey to a nourished life on Facebook, Twitter, and www.feedyoursoul.com — a portal for love, laughs and maybe even a sexy story or two.