Through the years of teaching I have worked with many types of yoga practitioners and it’s incredible to see all the different agendas and expectations that we arrive with at class. I am occasionally guilty of this process as well, which unfortunately has the tendency to diminish what we take away from the yoga experience. However it is important that we remember, when we enter our yoga space, no matter the day, our job is to show up and be fully present with our teacher, our selves, our breath, and our body.
Easier said than done! On days when this feels impossible, we show up to the best of our abilities and surrender to the process – in the spirit of waking up!
How do we wake up? There is no simple answer to that question. In my experience it starts with what we are willing to offer to our practice and how much are we willing to open to the process –no matter what comes up.
For whatever reasons we come to yoga, it is important to remember that the yoga practice is not always sweet and easy. The practice asks us to go deeply within our inner landscapes and navigate unchartered waters. Naturally, we are going to bump up against difficulty, discomfort, and resistance.
The greatest opportunity is to stay engaged with these moments of fire. If we can preserver and engage in a process of inquiry, we may experience the physical and mental freedom we imagine. Without going deeper to explore the unknown and face our resistances, how can we move beyond the superficial layers of our being?
This leads to an even bigger question:
Why are we so resistant to explore challenges that confront us with frustration, anger, maybe even a little hate? Isn’t this practice meant to take us deeper to explore difficulty with curiosity and interest? Don’t get me wrong, not all of our practices will take us to our edges, but many will.
How can we switch our attitude to one of inquiring dialogue, asking why a posture challenges us, and on more emotional and mental levels, why do we dislike or even ‘hate’ a pose so much? It is easy to forget that the practice is not always supposed to feel good or generate positive thoughts; it is suppose to create spaciousness in which we can begin to truly ‘feel,’ fully and honestly, every experience in the body. As we begin to ‘feel’ at these levels we can begin to shed layers of emotional and physical blockage and unravel knots of suffering.
“Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being” –Rumi
I have noticed that when challenge comes up during class, we find excuses to leave the room, take a bathroom break, sip our water, or find anything else to do. Sometimes we are fully aware of our desire for distraction and sometimes it is completely unconscious. Our conditioning for pleasure is automatic: when the going gets tough, peace out! Why are we so afraid of uncertainty and change?
K. Pattabhi Jois, the late founder of Ashtanga Yoga said, “the body is not stiff, the mind is stiff.” Naturally there are physical limitations and certain postures that may be inaccessible for some bodies. That does not mean we can’t try to explore our range of possible movement and how to access some variation of the pose.
We are anything but simple creatures. Life is anything but straight forward. Progress is not a linear journey. Life is full of frustrations that can be transformed into joy, when we change our relationship to frustration and struggle. The resolve we yearn for may be fleeting, but each time we unite even the smallest of psychic knots, we release a profound wealth of renewable (bliss filled) resources that were simply waiting for us. We may discover trust, ease, peace, and stillness that have always been there, and now we have a way in.
We are complex beings with complex bodies and minds. We have gotten good at talking ourselves out of situations, instead of accepting what makes us feel uncomfortable and requires us to explore deeper layers of ourselves, both light and dark.
How do we find the courage to speak up if something is not working? Do we approach discomfort in a way that is intelligent and allows us to try to experience or give up altogether and with excellent reasons why not.
Yoga postures are tools for transformation and inquiry, and we can endlessly adapt how we use and think about them. We may create a specific shape with our body and have a specific idea of ‘what the pose should look like’ but, ultimately, it’s not what the shape looks like on the outside, it’s what the shape reveals on the inside.
That is the work!