I was hesitant to put these thoughts onto paper since there is an abundance of yoga articles out there. On what it is and what it isn’t. On when, how and where to do it.
From the best things to wear while practicing, to which style of yoga is right for you.
But this morning there was a shift, an opening and a softness within my heart that I’ve never felt to this extent. And a deeper settling of myself into my own being. A day I’ve heard about, dreamed about and longed for. But for a long time questioned if it was ever really possible.
This morning was different for me because the softness I felt included the experience of myself in its entirety. It was a true welcoming and honoring of every single part of myself (even the parts I’m not always especially fond of).
After a rather challenging and intense few months, it was the most nourishing surprise to wake up to. This new sense of softness and ease gently coursing throughout my body and pulsing within my heart.
I cozied up, leaned into and basked in this unfamiliar yet welcoming space. And before my eyes fully opened the first thoughts I remember arising were: mmmm this is it. This is the practice of yoga. This is my why.
It was one of those full-circle moments.
Since I began practicing yoga, my life has been turned upside down several times and has changed quite radically. The breakdowns, the breakthroughs, the unraveling, the learning, and—of the utmost importance—unlearning.
It feels like I’ve just done one of the most interesting, yet challenging obstacle courses for the past seven years and that the finish line is simply (and kind of hilariously) the warmness and inclusiveness in my own heart.
As it does for most people, my reasons to practice have shifted immensely as the years have gone by.
I was first drawn to the physical aspect and supposed health benefits. Then I began to experience how the practice alleviates anxiety with the experience of space. Space between the thoughts and the breath. As well as learning the ability to really bask in that pause, to be present and to be mindful.
Yet as time passes and we keep showing up, it gets exponentially more interesting. We begin to really get to know ourselves on an intimate level through self inquiry and self observation.
We begin to see our patterns. The way we are, the whys to the way we are, and the parts of ourselves that may be a little more challenging to look at.
A while back, I was at five day meditation retreat and the intensity of the pain and emotion that arose when we explored meditations around the heart space was extremely overwhelming. It felt so viscerally prickly, painful and intense and I could hardly bare to sit with myself. (I actually tried to plan my escape a few times, but my car was blocked in by too many cars. It made it impossible to sneak out unnoticed.)
So I stayed. But it was daunting, uncomfortable and I couldn’t seem to figure out why there was so much pain.
There were times when I completely resented the practices and ever embarking down this path. But one thing I’ve experienced repeatedly is that we can’t un-see or un-feel things. And we’ll have to deal with it eventually.
Following that retreat I stalled for months and avoided sitting with myself as much as possible. But after some (well, many) breakdowns, frustration and anger, I was tired of feeling the way I did and I wanted to move through it.
I felt like I had so much work to do, so much to get done and that there was a lot I needed to “fix.” I went on a bit of a self-inquiry/self-work binge to figure it out. Books, workshops, retreats, therapists and my own personal practice.
Which can be great…
But I was missing the most vital and necessary ingredient in my own process. Along the way, I totally forgot about the most important thing we must always have along side us when we do any sort of self work.
Compassion for the self.
Awareness and mindfulness are one thing. But to truly and honestly show up for ourselves like we would our best friend—with that level and quality of compassion—is absolutely vital for this journey.
Because we will undoubtedly see things we don’t like. We will see our shadow side, our blocks, our past and our self-created projections of the future.
As I was setting up a space to write these words to start my morning, I put on a kettle of tea, created a space to write and before I sat down I went to my room to grab a sweater. As I stepped into my room, and looked up I was wonderfully startled. There it was. The reminder I so desperately needed. It was right in front of me this whole time.
I was eye level with this picture I bought not long after I started practicing yoga. It’s been with me all this time. It’s actually been the only thing that has come with me through every move to a new location over the past several years. I couldn’t help but smile, shake my head and laugh a little bit.
It’s a beautiful picture of two foot prints in the sand with the quote:
“I have arrived, I am home. My destination is in each step.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Sometimes we simply forget to just pause and look up. Sometimes what we’re outwardly seeking is right in front of us (or right beneath our own surface).
I think it’s one of the few things I know with absolute certainty (yet forget regularly). That we never get it done. That some distant day in the future where we fantasize about how we’ve made it, when we have all our sh*t together, or have it all figured out. It simply doesn’t exist.
So, I sweetly ask all my fellow travelers: Show up. Do the work. But remember to always bring along the most important tool: compassion for the self.
“One of the highest forms of spiritual practice is self-observation with compassion.” ~ Swami Kripalu
This morning the internal shift was quiet yet powerful. My breath felt a little more spacious, my mind calmer and my heart, for the first time in a long time, felt open and soft.
I know there will be more challenges, more learning, more unraveling and more pain throughout my life. But to know the sweetness of our own heart and our own soul, to even momentarily touch the sweet nectar that exists in each one of us is a reminder of the underlying eternal sweetness of this life experience.
We can’t think our way through it all, and we sure can’t do it alone. This journey isn’t always easy and we won’t always like what we see.
But as we navigate through it, we need to remember to be kind to ourselves. To never underestimate nor forget the irreplaceable component of compassion.
Because maybe there is nothing left to do, seek or fix. Maybe all that’s left is to wholeheartedly welcome in compassion. Compassion for others and the world around us. And just as equally as important, compassion for ourselves.
Because how could everything not change for the better if we all tapped into our own well of compassion and initiated our lives from this place?
The path of yoga can be intricate, challenging and even confusing at times. But to remember underneath it all it’s just a journey of the self to the self, and traveling with compassion will allow for a much more enjoyable ride.
“Understanding without practice is better than practice without understanding. Understanding with practice is better than understanding without practice. Residing in your true nature is better than understanding or practice.” ~ Upanishads
We must remember that we never get it done.
We must remember to be kind to ourselves every step of the way.
We must remember that in each moment and every moment, we have arrived.
And above all, a reminder that maybe there’s nothing left to do, seek or fix. But to just bask in our sweetness, in the essence of what we are beneath it all.
Author: Alexa Torontow
Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: Used with permission by Karolina Gnat