Some years ago, while making a big transition from a pain-fuelled and not so healthy lifestyle, to one where I began to glue the pieces of myself together, I found my way back on the yoga mat. Having practiced as a teenager, I quickly felt at home. And for the first year or two, my physical practice was the main focus. I was healing from an eating disorder and with each class found more and more acceptance, while I saw the body changing and opening. Asanas which I deemed “impossible” all of a sudden became no big deal. I still remember crying with happiness when I came into my first proper Chaturanga > Updog transition. I was motivated by the physical for which I had to work hard, and thus cherished the results. But the more the body opened and the less rigid it was, the calmer I felt in my headspace. What started as a way of managing my busy compulsive mind soon began to seep into all other areas of my life. I was hooked in the most delicious way!
The stronger I was in my physical practice, the calmer I felt within. Quite organically I began to make time to meditate, soon after – to chant. I heard the call of the ancient yogic texts. I wanted to understand, to learn, it all resonated! I dove deep. And with every next step, new layer of old identity peeled off. I discovered softness and vulnerability. For a while, I cried in Savasana every single time. Every. Single. Time. I began to connect, and God, I was overwhelmed! I wasn’t the body. I wasn’t the mind. I cried some more. Wow, I WAS the Witness. What’s more mind-blowing than that realisation?
From this came an organic unfolding of seeing our interconnectedness and feeling the compassion towards all. I went vegan. I became gentle. The violent and strained relationship with my physical body, marked with years of abuse, filled up with kindness and love. Each morning, following a blissful 7am practice, I would arrive at my desk at a busy agency and immediately feel the difference. Suddenly, I was no longer able to cope with the stress and pressure, aggression, swearing, fast pace. I didn’t want to compromise. It took me few more months before I realised that I wanted to LIVE what I practice on the mat. I wanted to bring the patience, acceptance and compassion off the mat and into every hour of my every day. From that point on, everything has changed, I’ve put it all on one card, qualified as a teacher, and the rest is history.
The point is this: it took me a year or two to truly realise that yoga is not the backbend, the handstand, the fancy rubber mat or shiny leggings, but that sweet quiet space between each inhale and exhale. While the true aim (and sweet promise) of spiritual liberation lay on the horizon, yoga ought to be a way of living. True practice starts with a daily question – what can I do to be of service? What can I choose in this situation to do good? Can I approach this moment with my full presence? Can I accept what comes and let it be? Can I stop comparing myself to others? Can I hang through this challenge (just like this 10th breath in Warrior II, anyone?) without fighting, tensing, reacting, knowing in my Heart that it is simply impermanent?
There is a lot of controversy around people making profit off yoga. I get asked about the Instagram yoga, or the not-so-ethical brands selling supposedly “yogic” products while sponsoring half of the industry (ahem..), or students coming to practice because it’s cool to do so. And I say, LET THEM. Every single reason to unfold the mat is just as valid as the other. What for someone may begin as a yoga selfie challenge, or the desire to fit in or be cool (yay!), with a regular practice, will soon bear fruits. And those are NEVER negative. No one has ever regressed in their emotional / spiritual unfolding because of yoga. And maybe, just maybe, the student who right now is more concerned about the brand of their leggings, will one day wonder where and how they were made. Perhaps another one, while chanting Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, will FEEL that for all beings to be free and happy, we ought to stop killing (and thus maybe, just maybe, eating) them. And the one dreaming of losing weight and finally feeling good in their own skin, will finally realise how truly magical their body is, how after just a few months of consistent practice they are able to come into a posture that once upon a time seemed so elusive. The teachings of yogic philosophy are simple – Yamas and Niyamas show us how to be present, kind, content, pure. We can of course deny it any validation and apply exclusively to our asana practice, focusing on fancy postures, cleansing breath, a lot of sweat, investing in expensive props, and tensing the abs. OR we can give ourselves the permission to be teachable, and learn something, by applying these thousands-of-years old teachings to every single moment. And see what comes out.
Magic happens on the mat. Grab it, squeeze it, and then pour it all over your life. It’s time to stop DOING yoga. Let’s BE yoga.