For years, it was all about my body.
My perfectionist self wanted to “master” the yoga asanas (poses). I was very focused on doing things perfectly. I thought the shape I was putting my body into was the actual yoga.
I didn’t know that I wasn’t really “getting” yoga. I was doing it, that’s for sure. I just wasn’t being it.
I was certainly re-shaping my spine. My slumped shoulders began to roll back and down—and I grew an inch (really, my posture just corrected itself). Asana practice toned my muscles and took away my belly flab. My toes could spread and lift, and then press down on the mat one at a time. My hip flexors relaxed enough so that my heels began to touch the floor in squats. My achy runner’s knees strengthened with lunges and eventually stopped aching altogether.
Yoga certainly changed my body—and somewhere in the process of focusing on the physical, my mind and heart changed too. My perfectionist thoughts off the mat began to soften. My walled-up heart began to melt open.
I didn’t really begin to understand the real yoga I was experiencing until the day when my asana practice just didn’t seem to “work.” And by work, I mean I had an expectation that I’d get my physical fix: my body would become tension free; my emotional fix: my heart would soften and open, and any heavy feelings would give way; and my mental fix: my constantly chattering mind would quiet down or completely shut off (that had happened to me a few sacred times before).
However, on this day, all my expectations led to complete disappointment. I rolled up my mat and felt completely the same—physically, mentally, and emotionally—as when I’d started the asanas.
I walked out of the studio where I was practicing, and suddenly, I felt alive. Suddenly, I was in tune with my breath, and the beating of my heart, and the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement. Life seemed richer and more vibrant—much richer than it did in the studio on my mat.
I remember a woman with a knit cap walked by me frowning—and I smiled instinctively, as if I was meeting my own inner sadness on the mat with compassion. The moment the passerby’s lips turned to a smile, I felt nonchalant—it didn’t really matter to me in this moment how this person responded. I kept walking, appreciating every step. I noticed buds starting to bloom on a nearby bush, and I stopped to smell them, appreciating their color and beauty—and enjoying their subtle fragrance.
I knew this was it—the meaning of yoga—or perhaps, it was the yoga of life. This was presence with a sense of compassionate detachment. I’ve spent years working on being present with myself on the mat, letting my breath guide my body in and out of various asanas, and observing the undulations of my mind and heart in the process. And now, I suddenly understood that I was meant to take that presence into every waking moment of my life—not just in those minutes or hours I spent on my mat.
My overthinking self suddenly felt super present in the open-aired space. It was then that I heard her—that voice that wants me to master asana and wants me to master this life. I laughed to myself…my heart spoke, “It’s not about mastery, it’s about presence. Being with self through the experiences of life, that is enough.”
Whenever I unroll my mat now, I know I’m there to practice one form of yoga: “on the mat” yoga. I know that my body appreciates and needs asana, and my mind and heart always expand too. But, my spirit—it is the yoga. Each inhale and exhale—my journey home to the moment—is my reminder of the ongoing connection between the body, the mind, and the heart.
Yoga isn’t a thing we do; it’s who we are. It’s a state of being.
I’m so thankful that my spirit now knows what yoga really is and has fully embraced this practice. My yoga will never end, as long as I’m living and breathing in this body on this earth.
Author: Sarah Theresa
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Travis May