April 27, 2011

How Yoga Has Changed My Life (And How It Can Change Yours).

All my life, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist.

I used to tell myself, it’s just the way I am. I would never lend out books to people for fear that they would bend a corner or crack a spine. My notes in school were perfect and pristine, and if I ever made a mistake (which was rare), I would get a new page and start all over again.

I also used to be one of those people that crafted a meticulous plan for every occasion. When I was in high school, I had a very specific idea of how my life was to go: married by x age, kids by x age, so on and so forth. Shockingly to me, many of my friends and classmates had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives – what university or college to go to, what major to pursue. I knew exactly that I wanted to go to this school for that major just as certainly as I knew that my favourite colour was green and my favourite ice cream flavour was vanilla. I hated change, because I was afraid of it. I had to be in control.

(Other weaknesses of mine include a tendency to overreact, to ruminate, to turn to food for comfort, to try to change others “for the better” in an attempt to define my own self worth…any of this sound familiar?)

After I graduated from high school and entered university, the landscape of my life shifted significantly. I made the painful discovery that even I was not invincible against the powerful forces of change. And lo and behold, I tripped, came crashing down and stumbled into yoga. And it blew open my life in ways I never could have imagined.

One of the principal tenets of Anusara yoga is the idea of opening to grace. I cannot describe the shift in my life that yoga has created in any other way than as a complete opening to the grace that I had been unaware was surrounding me all along. Through countless sun salutations and savasanas alongside total strangers, I have slowly learned that there is a world out there that is far greater than I had ever imagined. In a yin class one day, I stopped fighting gravity, let myself go completely in pigeon pose and surrendered to the edge between ease and effort. And yet, the earth continued to support me.

Through it all, yoga has provided me with the tools that I need to learn and grow – something that I had been so desperately lacking. I discovered that there is always the breath. There is always this moment. I’m slowly figuring out how to gracefully accept the gifts that I had convinced myself I did not rightfully deserve. I’ve learned that I can take great leaps of faith, and trust that there will always be something or someone there to catch me if (and when) I fall. However, through this sense of surrender, this relinquishing of personal control, I have encountered absolutely no lack of guidance or opportunity. Where I once believed that having no plan directly equated to wandering life aimlessly, I have found that trusting in the power of the universe to gently nudge me in the right direction has had a profound impact in creating a sense of expansiveness in my life that I never could have experienced otherwise.

It’s funny, the way these changes creep in, slow and gradual. After all, you don’t go from having tight hamstrings to waking up one morning and jumping into the splits. I did not turn to yoga as a means to control my obsessive, perfectionist tendencies. I didn’t have a revelation, a Eureka! moment where I realized that I had been transformed and chiseled into some perfect, spiritual yogini who meditates with absolute ease and drifts through life blissful and carefree. I am still afraid, every day, to step outside my comfort zone. There are absolutely moments where I feel that I do not know how to tell the truth, even to myself. But the practice of yoga is just that – a practice, one that reaps benefits beyond touching your toes or standing on your hands.

We are all here for a reason; to serve a very specific purpose in the world and in one another’s lives. We have powers beyond our own wildest imagination, powers that we may not even yet be able to harness or understand. Yet, I’ve heard so many inspirational stories of people who’ve taken up yoga and have subsequently given up alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, unhealthy relationships and other such issues that have been haunting them for years. Does correlation lead to causation? Not necessarily. The fact of the matter is, yoga is not a cure-all pill. Adho mukha svanasana is not some sort of incantation that can dissipate your problems with the wave of a magic wand. Yoga is a stick of dynamite that will blast away your ideas of who you’ve been, who you are and who you can be and simply leave you gaping in the face of the truth that is your own inner light.

Is it scary? Is it difficult? Is it life-changing? Absolutely. But I guarantee you that it’s so, so worth it. And it all starts with one breath, right here, right now.

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