During the first weekend of my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program, my class was posed with the simple question, “Why do you practice yoga?”
The automatic response that left my mouth sounded rehearsed and censored: “Because I like improving my flexibility and I like the feeling of relaxation.”
The answer in itself was a valid one—as those are a few benefits of the practice—yet I knew that for me, the time I spent on my mat was about so much more.
As I now approach the last weekend of my yoga training, my answer to this question has evolved into an authentic one that resonates deeply with me, though it isn’t always so simple to explain to others.
Every time I step on my mat, the short answer to my underlying motivation is threefold: to connect with the center of who I am; to open my heart regardless of what it is going through; and to allow vulnerability a space in my daily life.
But this is my long answer:
Pressing her hands into the muted orange mat below her, her eyes remain closed as her body moves rhythmically to the soft chanting playing in the distance. Reminding herself to breathe—fully, deeply and completely into every cell of her body—she allows her breath to fill her body with peace. With love. Exhaling slowly and completely, she allows her body to relax into the pose, moving deeper into the movement.
She allows expansion, the space needed to let go.
Her shaking muscles resent the holds, as they ache and cry out for release. Symbolic of the way her heart feels during practice. She clings to the pose until the edge is close enough to threaten her commitment, brings herself slightly past that point, then slowly and lovingly, she lets go and moves on.
I love you, she silently reminds her spirit.
Thank you for carrying me through these challenges, she affirms to her body.
I am okay. I will always be okay. As long as I have my breath.
She pushes back and contracts into a little ball upon her mat where she has the opportunity to rest and reflect. She notices the heaviness of her heart contradicting the lightness of her body as she guides her breath toward the center of her chest. Another inhale to keep her heart open, no matter how desperate it is to squeeze up into itself where it could be safe and untouchable.
No, she insists, stay open and vulnerable. She knows it is the only way to remain loving and compassionate with her friends. With her family. With her children. With herself.
She hadn’t noticed the small gathering of tears that filled the gaps in her mat until her hand slid into them. The realization opened the gateway to more tears, coming from a space within her that had remained closed until her body fell to ease in the familiarity of her mat.
Here she knows she is safe. And free. And open to exposing the deepest and darkest parts of her being. She allows it all to spill out for just a moment before moving on.
There is no plan, her limbs flow where they need to. She has learned to surrender to the desires of her body which express themselves in movement cloaked with the beauty of rawness. The more she lets go, the more her spirit fills with desire. Purpose. Empowerment. Freedom—just on the other side of clinging. When surrender meets vulnerability, intuition steps in as her heart fills with love and peace.
She lays upon the mat, allowing her body to sink. Hands and feet splaying away from her, she reminds herself to trust that she is okay. Allowing her breath to flow freely, a smile forms upon her tight lips. Gratitude sweeps in, encouraging her heart to remain full, with only the most meaningful reasons.
Bit by bit, day by day, pose by pose, she is evolving into the space of who she is and who she wants to be.
Now I pose the question to you: Why do you practice yoga?
Author: Rachel Neill
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Patrick Hendry/Unsplash