“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit the broken pieces together. Yoga allows you to find an inner peace that is not ruffled and riled by the endless struggles of life. Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known even existed. To a yogi, freedom implies nor being battered by the dualities of life, its ups and downs, its pleasures and its suffering. It implies equanimity and ultimately that there is an inner serene core of one’s being that is never out of touch with the unchanging, eternal infinite.” –BKS Iyengar.
Say what? Let’s break this down.
You go to yoga class. You start with mountain pose – isn’t this just standing? You are instructed to draw your awareness to the soles of your feet. What? No one should ever think about the bottom of your feet. Ever. Then comes the cat/cows, and you start to move the spine up and down with the breath. You notice maybe how one side of your back is tighter than the other. Interesting. Your teacher makes you hold plank for what seems like an eternity (sorry folks who have been at my classes recently…sorry/not sorry…) and as you begin to shake and curse me (er, the teacher) out, you are counted through ten grueling breaths. Thank goodness that’s over. Then comes the part where you’re asked to balance on one foot. Haven’t done that in a while. You are encouraged to gaze at a spot on the floor that doesn’t move (hello piece of dust you never noticed before), and drive down the weight here, press in here, and oh right you are still supposed to breathe! Okay, here we go! You look around and try to see how long everyone else is holding THEIR tree poses, and over you go. Start again. This time keep focused on that piece of dust. Oh wait, don’t forget to pick up milk at the store after class. Damn, there you go again, you’re thinking, my tree must be rotting from the inside. Okay, one more time. Maybe there is actually something to this focusing-on-one-spot thing. You’ll try it. Look at the dust, look at the dust, look at the dust. Oh yes and breathe! There, finished it! Only fell three times. Now comes the easy part, right? We are just going to stretch it out on the floor, no biggie. Pigeon pose? Sounds nice! Knee there, ankle there, slip that blanket under there, this feels great! Got it. Notice dust on the floor, think how someone really should vacuum this room more. Play with fingernails. This is getting uncomfortable, how much longer does she expect us to hold this damn position? Okay, right, breathe. In and out. Add eggs to the shopping list. Seriously?! Did the damn teacher fall asleep and forget to get us out of this pose? Look around. No one else is moving, did they fall asleep too? They look too comfortable. This is excruciating! Shit sucks. Start to grimace. You think, I’m going to just come out. This is ridiculous. Ahhh finally, we are done. And time for the second side?! You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
And then finally, savasana! This is what you came for. You get to lay on the floor and do nothing. Perfect time to think about what else you need from the store.
And then class is over. Somehow, you feel amazing.
You are a glutton for punishment, or something like that, so you go back to the class. And then you go back again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Because something inside drives you to go. Then, in the next class, you only fall out of tree pose twice. In the next class, you only curse ten times during pigeon, not eleven. In the next class, you actually kind of forget about your shopping list during savasana.
And then something REALLY CRAZY happens. You feel less irritable during the day. That thing that your husband does that usually really annoys you, today it didn’t get under your skin quite so bad. Your toddler had a tantrum? Eh. You’ll just sit here and watch him until he’s done. Someone cuts you off in traffic? The urge to flip them the bird just isn’t there today.
What the heck is happening to you?! (Aside from the fact that you love me and your ten hour plank poses)….
This, folks, is the I N W A R D J O U R N E Y.
Yes. You are on it.
Without getting too prosaic, here is a quick nutshell version of one aspect of yoga philosophy. Imagine you are an onion. Outside, the part you can see and touch, is your physical body. The skin, muscles, bones.
The next layer in, you can’t see, but you can feel. It’s the breath. The inhales and the exhales. It’s what keeps you alive, that cool rush of air that gives you the energy you need to go about your day.
Next layer is your mind, thoughts, and intelligence. Makes sense so far, yeah?
Then we go deeper and find… your wisdom. Yes, it’s there! That “little voice inside.” You know, the one who tells you what you KNOW you should and shouldn’t do. Like, “you really should go for a walk today.” Or, “if I were you, I wouldn’t try that one-handed handstand quite yet.” We can probably go ahead and just call this your “gut.” With me?
Okay, and then lastly, deepest layer of all: BLISS. I know, I know, bliss is sipping a margarita poolside, right? Trust me I wish I was there too. But there is more to it than that. There is bliss already living within you, one that is authentic and true and doesn’t care if you are on an all-inclusive vacation, or changing the baby’s diaper while your toddler is having a temper tantrum. THERE IS BLISS REGARDLESS. In all scenarios. Unconditional, soulful bliss.
It is all in how you choose to see it, what response you take to the things life throws your way. This goes back to what I mentioned before, when you notice that those little things don’t irritate you quite as much. When you find yourself feeling weirdly un-bothered in a situation that previously would have pissed you off endlessly. Maybe even a little bit content.
Here we are, we have arrived IN. So yes, you come to class and strengthen and tone your muscles, allowing you to feel a little more comfortable in your own skin and maybe relieve some of those aches and pains. You begin to notice parts of your body you never put much thought into before, like the feet. You learn to use the breath to sustain you through those plank poses. You direct your gaze and your entire attention on that speck of dust, and that helps you to balance on one foot. You begin to listen to your body when it speaks to you, like when you try to take pigeon pose and your knee hurts, and you come out and take the alternate figure-4 pose. And you leave with a sense of contentment, the “yoga high” if you will, which carries over and makes you a generally more pleasant human for the rest of the day.
If we can do all these things on our yoga mat, why can’t we do them off it? If you can check in with your feet and feel rooted in mountain pose, why can’t you check in with your feet and feel a bit more calm and grounded whenever anxiety strikes? If the breath can carry us through challenging poses, why can’t it carry us through some of those challenging moments in our life? If focusing our eyes and mind on one simple thing can help us feel balanced in tree pose, why can’t focusing on one thing at a time help us feel more balanced when life throws us a curveball, so that we don’t fall flat on our butts? If we listen to our knees in pigeon pose and adjust accordingly, why can’t we listen to those inner voices that try to guide us in the right direction whenever we are faced with a decision? If we can feel a sense of bliss coming out of savasana, why can’t we choose to feel that getting out of bed in the morning? It’s all the same, yeah?
Of course, like anything good in life, this comes with time and patience and getting yourself to that class over and over and over again. But all these fantastic things can begin to manifest pretty quickly – and THAT is why yoga class is so damn addicting.
If you went, and you didn’t feel that urge to go back again, try a new teacher or a new style of class, seriously. Not every teacher is for every student. Luckily, there will be someone for everyone. THE INWARD JOURNEY IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO. And the more you keep at it, the more frequently those blissful moments arise, and the more quickly you can drop into them. So basically it’s a (not-so) vicious cycle.
Because let’s face it, sometimes life sucks. Adulting is hard. Families get torn apart. People become sick. Jobs fall through. We are asked to move just when it feels most inconvenient. Life is crazy, changing. We all just want to be happy, but that can be hard when it feels like the rug sometimes gets pulled out from under us. This work, this journey, can help us feel content – body, mind, and soul.
That, plus I know you love plank pose.
So THAT is yoga. That is why we keep at it, dust ourselves off when we fall, and start over. For those moments of equanimity, serenity, calmness. When we feel our own innate bliss coming through. Whether with me, or someone else, by yourself in your pajamas in your living room, it doesn’t matter. YOGA.
Let me know what you think. Ask me questions if you’re wondering how to get started. Peace and love, beautiful souls.