What does yoga mean to you?
Is it a way to handle stress?
Does it make you better person?
Can you be that better person without daily doses of pigeon and headstand?
I do yoga to release the open-hearted, accepting, joyful aspects of myself that get weighed down with life if I don’t do yoga.
I do it to break myself open over and over again and let the truth of who I am spill out onto my yoga mat and into my life.
I also wouldn’t mind mastering some cool arm balances and inversions.
This is the ego component of yoga. While egos are beautiful things that can serve us well in our lives, they also have a tendency to push us to get somewhere.
In our practice of yoga asana, we might sometimes feel that practice makes perfect. More practice will make us stronger, make us better yogis or help us attain a more perfect practice.
I once heard this question by a teacher:
Are you collecting yoga poses in your practice?
The question made me squirm a little. It happens often that what starts as a beautifully simple connection to ourselves sometimes spirals into a physical competition.
I recently started taking classes I wouldn’t normally attend, like restorative yoga and beginner classes. These classes reminded me to tune into my body on a simple but deep level. Here, where things weren’t moving so fast, where things were still and silent, I had no choice but to listen.
So listen I did, and here’s what my body told me:
Thank you for letting me rest. Thank you for allowing me to be. Thank you for loving me when I’m not doing anything.
Look at me.
Not in the mirror at “you”. Look at me, the real me, which is the real you. See how strong my bones are. Feel how soft my skin is. Listen to my heartbeat, steady and strong. Run your hand over those old scars with love. Look at me. See me. See you.
We need to work together.
You and me. The “you” that likes to prove yourself physically and run through your do-Do lists, and “me,” the part of you that doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone; that is supremely beautiful with all her imperfections; that doesn’t need to lose any weight or master that handstand. You and me. We’re in this thing together. Let’s talk.
When the yoga instructor gives the option for wheel and my mind tells me, “you can do that,” I’ve started asking my body, “do you need this?” Do you need wheel to feel more open? If the answer is yes, I do wheel. If the answer is no, I take supported bridge.
I’m learning to find a new edge in yoga, and it’s not the one that’s the most physically challenging. It’s the edge I often push myself over because it makes me feel accomplished. Lately I’m attempting to approach that edge more consciously. Often the most challenging thing is to stay at that edge and not to push myself over it.
It’s a practice of deep listening and embodiment. I want my yoga to be about unity and not escapism. I am not trying to get out of my mind through my practice and I’m not trying to get out of my body. I’m trying to balance both so that I can fully be present and from that place of presence, fully embrace my life.
I’m a firm believer in the ability of deep and sustained asana practice to create profound shifts in our minds and to deliver us to our fullest life. That was my first experience of yoga before I realized meditation and mindfulness do the same thing without movement.
The more practiced we get with yoga asana, the easier it is to get attached or addicted to the physical component of our practice as a way to prove ourselves.
We get attached to the kind of yoga we do, how often we do it, and what we can do. It starts to become another label we wear and another way we identify ourselves.
Isn’t the lack of labels what attracted us to yoga in the first place? The beauty of a label-free zone we could be ourselves in?
There is great freedom, empowerment, and truth to be accessed through a mindful practice of yoga. We can access it from an armchair or a wheelchair or powerful chair pose.
As long as we have a mind and a body, we have the ability to fully embody yoga.
We are not defined by our yoga practice. We are not built up or torn down by poses we can or cannot do. That’s our mind that defines, builds up and tears down.
The next time you feel your ego pushing you to over your personal edge, pause and ask yourself what it’s in service of.
Where will your next pose take you? Are you already there?
At its deepest level, yoga is a practice of returning to ourselves and remembering who we really are, over and over again.
Lest we forget.
Monique Minahan writes because she can’t sing. She wishes she could bottle the radical healing power of love and give it away. She does her best to walk her talk and blogs on the power of mindful living at mindfulmo.com. She also writes for Intent.com and is a registered yoga teacher.
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Assistant Ed: Christa Angelo/Kate Bartolotta