Lately I’ve found myself reflecting on my longstanding yoga practice and all that it has given me.
Over the years yoga has become something of a friend. A sounding board, an inspiration, a challenger. A difficult friend sometimes. But a safe one too. Loving. A nurturing friend who wants the best for me and is not the least bit afraid to cause me great discomfort in the process.
Yoga has taught me a lot, but I think the overarching theme so far is how to observe myself. To look with kindness at what’s happening with me, the places I’m stuck in life or in my body, and to be compassionate when exploring the possible reasons why. And the ways of unsticking.
The concept of Svadhyaya (self-study) is not unique to yoga, but it is found in Patanjali’s 8-Limbed Path of Yoga. (Asana, the poses, is another one.) Svadhyaya falls under the limb of the Niyamas, which are yogic concepts having to do with your own person. Another Niyama is Santosha, or contentment. The counterpart to Niyamas, called Yamas, are public observances… don’t steal, don’t lie…
Where Yamas are ways of conducting yourself around others, Niyamas are all about conducting yourself around you.
The physical practice of yoga is so great for learning how to observe yourself. How to fire muscles. Engage those quads, flex your biceps. What it means to find grounding. The duality in every movement. How to recognize when you’re uncomfortable, and to do something about it. Or to not do something about it. But to be purposeful in whatever you’re doing about it. How to breathe through discomfort, maybe even smile through it.
Yoga has shown me how it’s all connected. You can’t get to Samadhi without Contentment. One of those things is a very elementary concept, and the other is quite esoteric, but yoga has leveled them out in a wonderful way for me. It’s not that I don’t desire ultimate connection with a higher power, it’s just that I’m content right now to work on compassion for myself. For others. For my hamstrings. For our past, yours and mine. As Ram Dass famously said: “We’re all just walking each other home”.
I see you. I see us, our commonalities. Those connections are more clear to me thanks to yoga.
Through yoga I have learned that nothing happens when you can finally do a handstand. But also that everything happens when you can finally do a handstand.
The patience and strength, perseverance, the understanding of connection, the fine tuning that is demonstrated in a body (and a mind) that can now do what it could not before, is valuable. It’s everything.
Yes, everything happens when you can finally do a handstand. Final answer.
If you do it the right way, of course.
My yoga practice has taught me how to ask more of myself. To be honest, I find that with time this has become less of an ask and more of an invite. I’m in my 40s now and I’ve been practicing yoga for over half my life. I’m getting stronger and stronger all the time, but really I’m all about asking more of myself only when I’m totally into the idea of giving more. If I’m not into it, I’m just not. Maybe tomorrow.
This is the main reason I will likely never run a marathon: because I am fundamentally unwilling to kick my own ass like that. And it’s getting worse with age. 🙂 The stronger I get, the less I am willing to really blast those quads. Unless I am. And when I am, ooh girl.
I might not be willing to go through the ordeal of a marathon, but I do love me a tough workout, almost every single day. Thanks to my yoga practice, I know my body well. I am keenly aware of the exact moment when I am no longer into whatever I’m doing, and therefore I will always run right up on my edge, and often hang out there for a while, because I’m not forcing myself to be there. I stay as long as I can go hard, and when I’m out, I’m just out. No pain. Only power. Because compassion. And endorphins.
These days, this unwillingness to push too hard is true whether I am yogaing, or running, or partying, or traveling, or whatever ing I’m inging today.
Yoga gave me that. Discernment.
I feel like I’m working smarter, not harder.
Efficiency, and drive. Compassion. Tough love. The joys of meaningful work, and of extreme lounging. Yoga has taught me all these things and more, but for me it starts with that self-study. An honest assessment of where I’m at and what I can do today. What I can really do today.
My favorite yoga teacher used to always say “If it feels wrong, it probably is”. In your body and on your mat is a perfect laboratory for studying that concept, and once you’ve mastered it in the lab you can apply it everywhere in your life too. Relationships. Friendships. Jobs. Internet chat rooms.
“Does it feel wrong?”
Yoga has taught me that there are two sides to every story, even the one I am telling myself.
Self-study is the root from which my whole way of relating to the world grows, and that is why it is (so far, anyway) the most important thing that yoga has taught me.
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