Practicing yoga is hard AF. Aside from having to work to coordinate all your body parts with your breath while fully engaged in some intense mental focusing exercise, yoga practice requires a tremendous amount of emotional balancing and willpower, sitting with truth and repeatedly showing up to whatever it is that you are participating in. Not only am I referring to the yoga that we do on a sticky mat, but also the full spectrum of experience which extends into every bit of ones day including eating, sleeping, working, learning, exercising, resting, playing, etc.
When I began my first yoga teacher training program, one of the biggest learning resources we used was the classical text The Yoga Sutras penned by the ancient Indian sage Patañjali. Said to have lived more than 2000 years ago, I believe that Patañjali’s work is a fundamental study for everyone. This manual is a rich and complex read that holds simple and straightforward teachings on life and living. I say simple and straightforward because when you really get down to it, the principles he lectures on are easy to read and reflect upon, however the complexity lies in the honest practice and embodiment of these teachings. For reference purposes, here is a brief chart that highlights the undertone of the tips, tools and trainings he describes in much greater detail :
For many, myself included, I was largely drawn to start yoga for the postures. I wanted to learn how to bend, and balance and ‘perform’ these fantastical shapes in my body. I wanted to feel powerful and strong yet playfully move and dance on the mat. And I did. And I still do. But with two decades of mat practice under my belt and countless time spent on my meditation cushion or with my nose in a reference book, I am in constant awe at how different bits and pieces of Patañjali’s philosophy weaves its way into my attention. Most recently, a much different facet has grabbed me hook, line and sinker – it is that of svadhaya.
Svadhaya, roughly translated as self-study, is a brutally challenging and humbling practice that requires the individual to actually take a step back and take a really hard and long look at all the ways they move and rest, connect and detach, breath, think, believe and ultimately BE in their life. This is why I say that yoga is hard AF for it requires the practitioner to hold up a mirror and look at what, how, why, when and where they are acting and reacting. Not only that, but this observance practice requires the individual to learn how to honestly appreciate without judgement or criticism, that which they are seeing reflected. I don’t know about you but if I could chose between gazing upon my reflection, all day every day, and anything else, I would happily choose anything else. Don’t you agree??
For in your reflection lies the deepest of truths, your darkest secrets, you unrelenting fears and honest failures. In your reflection, your darkest self exists. And yet in that reflection, there is also the light of life, the spark of hope and faith, and the truth of your grandest and brightest dreams and life’s work. Svadhaya is so much more than the study of your Self. It is a study of the truth in your experiences, both the ones you create and the ones placed upon you in life and everything that goes along with that.
“To study the self is to be introspective. It is an effort to discriminate between the true self and the contingencies of one’s mind and body. To study the self, thus, is to take a critical stance towards ones’ mental life. This is the only way to understand the study of the self, for Patañjali regards the mind as a potentially confounding aspect of our embodiment that can cause confusion in our self-conception. The criticism of one’s mental life is an intrinsic feature of self-study for Patañjali’s view, the mind is the mirror by which the self can know itself, and also the means by which the self can confuse itself.” Shyam Ranganathan, Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra published by Penguin Classics.
See what I mean? Hard AF.
One of the biggest ways I have learned about myself is in the moment to moment interactions that are continually happening. Whether that be with another being, my dog, or my personal affects. Not always, but a lot of the time, I try to pay attention to the ‘negative’ exchanges that take place, the ones where I dig my heels in resistance, or exploded in an angry out burst of harsh cruel words. Or the way I say nothing until the other person walks away and I am left alone in stew in dissatisfaction. When this does happen, I try to remind myself to practice sitting in post-experience reflection and replay the moment of discord. I ask myself some simple questions like: Is there a way that I could have handled myself in the situation differently? If so, would that have been better? And what have I learned that I can practice in application next time?
There have also been so many moments in motherhood practice where the eyes and ears of my little one remind me that what I say, speak and do have a far greater reach and impact than I, in that moment, realize. And let’s not forget about the explosion of the digital world where we literally sit looking at ourselves in conversation and interaction. Many times I have replayed recordings and practiced observing the way I present myself and hold space for others while trying not to cringe at the tone and quality of my voice, or criticize my appearance.
Through this humble and often times excruciating practice of svadhaya, this most haphazard an unexpected lesson has helped me :
- Learn to appreciate that as much as I want it, perfectionism does not exist.
- Recognize the signs of self-disgust and criticism as they arise.
- Observe the ways that I extend criticism and judgement toward others.
- Get to know the truth in my fears and catch a glimpse of how they have come to be.
- Acknowledge my kavaigunyas, or weak spots, which have challenged me to seek out help and support.
- Cry and grieve while recalling the memories gifted to me from loved ones now long gone.
- Identify my genuine strengths and talents and take steps to open-heartedly embrace them.
- Define the dreams of my heart and put in place actions to nurture the manifestation process.
- Cultivate the tools and practices that best support my desire to continue growing and eventually flourish.
- Adapt to a schedule that supports and respects my work, family and personal requirements.
So yes, there are many things I have learned in two decades of yogic study and practice. To date, this has been the most enriching one.
“Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness and greatness.” – Unknown