When you use the word Yoga, many people associate this with the movement practice, called Yoga Asana. Asana is translated as "pose" or "posture". It is the most commonly practiced form of yoga in the Western world.* Yoga Asana has many physical benefits, including increasing flexibility, strength and cardiovascular capacity. Yoga asana also has other benefits, such as being a part of a community, remembering to breathe, stimulating the nervous systems and calming the mind. Yoga asana can also reveal a lot about our way of being and living in the world; it can be a mirror for our unconscious habits and a transformational tool to uncover our most authentic self.
When I started doing yoga, I was working out at a gym in Santa Barbara and a friend suggested we take a class to help with our flexibility. The active practices, while familiar and, therefore, psychologically soothing, did not contribute to more ease in my life; I did not feel like the stereotypical yogi. I was still anxious, angry and judgmental in the world outside of the yoga studio. Trying to perfect and “do” all the yoga poses began to feel like an assault on my body and mind; it was perpetuating old habits of physical competition and I felt that I was never going to be good enough. I had spent a lifetime hating my body, waging war against it with extreme behaviors, wanting it to be different, better.
Yoga asana revealed these unconscious patterns in my life of over-working, and striving for perfection; it was a gateway into the practices of self-awareness, self-acceptance and, ultimately, the discovery of authentic love and compassion for myself, just as I am. As one of my most beloved teachers, Bella Dreizler, has said: “the first and easiest way into knowing ourselves is through the physical channel, through our bodies.” Once I had a tangible awareness of my habitual behaviors, I could begin to address healing on many levels.
Because of many wonderful teachers and my personal commitment to the practice, I began to explore other, more gentle forms of yoga. These practices include regular meditation* and slow, conscious movement practices, which encourage ease in breathing, spaciousness, listening and pausing. In the yoga traditions, rest and contemplation are considered primary, which is quite contrary to our cultural norms. The practices of non-doing and simply being-with all the “parts" of myself have been the antidote to my internal dis-ease. Simply put, there is more space and ease around unhealthy habits, which creates more room to make healthy, conscious choices.
One of the main tenets in Buddhist philosophy is that all living things are interdependent and impermanent. The slower, more contemplative practices, combined with a variety of challenging life experiences, have allowed me to see and feel this tenet in real time.
Even in times where we feel like no one else could possibly know our struggle, the reality is we are all interconnected, having similar stories and struggles, and these circumstances are ever-changing.
No longer feeling alone and isolated, the sense of interconnectedness allowed me to land in my truth. I had uncovered a self that exudes compassion and empathy, loves wholeheartedly, with ease, and without conditions or falsehoods.
So, initially, yoga was a practice of self-awareness and self-acceptance, but it ultimately became a practice of transformation and discovery: I began to embody compassion* and real love. Not romantic or familial love, but the deepest forms of love: bold, inquisitive, courageous, messy, accepting, fun, playful, joyful, compassionate, empathic, selfless, intent and kind.
The practice is like a water wheel, the more love and compassion that I receive, the more there is to give out, and on and on. I have become an open vessel, a conduit for compassion and love. And, as a human in this complex world, this feels like the ultimate purpose.
This is why I practice yoga asana: to remember how to receive compassion and real love, so that I can serve others from a fully compassionate, sincere and loving heart.
I choose to teach this practice because it is my wish that each person can feel what it is to cultivate and receive genuine compassion and love, even in the places that feel imperfect. Because it is in witnessing and loving all of our diverse parts that we are able to feel our interdependence, and our mutual desires to connect, to be seen and loved wholly.
As my long-time teacher, Michelle Marlahan, has said, this practice is not easy, it’s not glamorous, it’s tedious and slow, and it is different for each person. But, ultimately, if you commit yourself to this practice, you will find your own way toward healing and becoming more compassionate and loving, slowly and steadily, one breath at a time.
Love to you on your heart’s journey,
*My favorite styles of yoga for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest function): Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Restorative Yoga.
*If you are curious about the other forms of Yoga, here is a brief introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga: https://www.yogajournal/practice/the-eight-limbs
*Meditation resource: https://jackkornfield.com/meditations/
*Definition of Compassion by Sharon Salzberg: www.sharonsalzberg.com/compassion-a-way-of-being-in-the-world/