My journey with yoga has been a winding road.
Almost always uphill and around many unknown bends and dips, it has been a difficult and treacherous path.
As I look back to myself two years ago, when I started on this journey, I know that I am essentially the same person today as I was back then only with layers upon layers of sadness, anxiety and emotional baggage removed.
This is a brief summary of how yoga changed my life in four “easy” steps.
As I prepared to write this article, I was recalling the various stages of evolution in my yoga practice. It wasn’t long before I realized that each step of my journey was actually one that I had taken before, recycled in another form. I recognized a pattern of four repeating steps.
Maybe you have noticed them in your own journey …
They are: Challenge, Recognition, Humility, and Love.
Here is a little bit of how it played out for me since the beginning.
Challenge: I need to do something to get myself out of the house! I need exercise. Sitting in a desk all day and in front of the TV at night, I am watching myself slowly grow fatter and lazier! Can’t stand the gym and it’s too cold in winter to get outside, maybe I’ll check out hot yoga. It seems like it could be a bearable form of physical activity (seriously though, I hate exercise.)
Recognition: Yoga is showing me some hard truths about myself. My body is so tight and asleep. I feel like an old lady! An unhealthy old lady.
I hope no one is watching me try to prop myself up on two blocks in half-pigeon pose. At least I can kind of blend in if I stick to the back of the room and only ever wear black!
I think this teacher is a bit strange. She keeps telling me to “move energy.” Not sure what that means, nor am I sure what the point of “om-ing” is. It makes me feel like a fake and I have to stop myself from laughing! I can’t even seem to close my eyes for five minutes in savasana, let alone “observe” and “detach from” my thoughts like she says.
Humility: I don’t really care how good I am at these poses anymore or what I look like. I am enjoying yoga so much! I can’t believe the amount of improvement I am seeing, even from one class to the next! My body is capable of more than I thought it was! Who would have thought all the weird positions I could get into?!
Love: I feel strong. I officially love this practice! It’s all I can talk about to my partner and anyone who will listen—the new positions I got into that day, how the sound of the om resonates through my body, and just how nice everyone is at the studio. I feel at home on my mat, and for the first time in a very long time, I feel at home in my body.
I learn to breathe.
Challenge: The more I build my life around yoga, the more I can see what I am doing in my life and on my mat. I can feel when I’m tired in my body and in my mind. I recognize how different foods affect my practice. I notice days when my mind is racing a million miles a second and others where I feel calmer and more focused.
I am tuning in to myself. I can feel it. I can feel the yoga in the other areas of my life.
I stay in the hard poses (and close my eyes in savasana) even when it feels impossible. I understand that the only limitations I have are the ones I create for myself.
I decide I want to be a happier and healthier person and I can see what needs to be changed to accomplish this. I take my first careful steps.
Recognition: All hell breaks loose. I am a mess. I’ve changed but my life hasn’t kept up and now everything has fallen apart. My relationship, my job, my goals—I question everything. I lose everything.
I see so many mistakes I’ve made in my life that it’s almost unbearable.
I question myself. This is not who I want to be.
I lose myself. Who am I?
I crash into despair and depression. Yoga keeps me alive.
Humility: I poke my head out from under the blankets of shame and fear.
I am still here.
My flaws are all exposed and raw, but I see no other choice than to keep living. I decide not to repeat certain mistakes. I decide to begin fresh. I decide to forgive those flaws.
Like falling out of a yoga pose, I get back up and try again. I am only human after all.
Love: I forgive myself. I see my flaws daily and catch myself in old behaviours but now I understand them. I see them as they’re happening and I smile in gratitude and recognition.
I know it’s okay.
I begin to see everyone I encounter as flawed also, and in their flaws I recognize a beautiful vulnerability.
I feel high. I feel invincible. I feel love coursing through me. Everything is okay in the universe.
Challenge: Believing I’m invincible and wanting more peace in my life, I try to mend fences with my ex-partner. So much old hurt and pain surface. I know I’m in a better place than I was before, but I can’t help feeling anger and blame for everything that’s happened. I am most angry that I allowed him to knock me out of my state of grace.
Recognition: I see how upset I am and I don’t like the person I see. I don’t like the things I’ve said and the way I acted. I fall apart again.
Humility: I begin fresh again by deciding to forgive. I realize I still have a long way to go on my path to healing.
Yoga provides the spiritual guidance I seek. I feel connected to myself, to others, and to a higher power through my practice. I decide to study and to learn and to be patient with myself. I am an empty cup.
Love: I see the beauty of it all. The fullness of life flows through me.
Yoga is a delicious celebration.
Challenge: I visit home and am confronted by the ghosts of my past. They still see me as I once was. I wonder which person is really me.
I return to my new home but I feel separate—separate from myself and separate from the world. I still drag myself to yoga class but it has lost most of its meaning for me. I go through the motions.
Recognition: I wonder about the purpose of my life. Where should I be and who should I be? I don’t feel at home anywhere, even in my own body.
I am so f#%ked up.
Humility: I see quicker now and it’s easier to forgive myself for my flaws. I open myself. I empty my cup again.
I decide to let intuition lead the way. I decide to keep my feet on the ground and keep my flaws on display.
In allowing my vulnerability, I begin to feel strong. From this place I push my limits and touch places I haven’t before—in life and on the mat.
Love: I am in a more real place. And by real, I mean true to myself.
I feel strong. I am courageous and I put my Self out into the world. People see me and I see them. I love them all regardless of how they perceive me. Life feels like a game and I want to play!
… and so it continues …
The yoga asanas are a physical practice that bring us through these stages of recognition in our bodies, but my yoga, my true yoga, is a practice that grows my life holistically through stages of clarity and chaos.
Through the cyclical pattern of expansion and contraction, birth and death, I come closer to my internal home.
The patterns, attitudes and beliefs that I don’t need die away one by one, and out I come each time, fresh as a baby, a snake shedding its skin.
My yoga journey is a cyclical motion of my soul spiralling ever outward from my body, and my focus spiralling ever closer to my heart centre.
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Assistant Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Smabs Sputzer / Flickr