You know that experience when someone near to you is stuck in an emotional puddle of yuck, and there is nothing you can do about it but watch it play out? They’re stuck in a pattern that causes them suffering, and in truth, it causes suffering to those who are with them.
Recently, I had a challenging experience as a teacher, which called to mind the question of why do we do yoga in the first place. I respect individual autonomy in handling our life problems on our own terms and in our own time, but as I was in such close proximity to this person for several days, I couldn’t help but be “in process” with them, too.
As I have had time to reflect on this recent experience, I wonder: Who are we becoming as we engage in the practice of yoga?
Yoga provides opportunities to experience a mix of sun/heating (ha) and moon/cooling (tha) energies. If our Down Dog or Urdhva Dhanurasana is accomplished with a sour face, or a competitive, angry or dispirited heart, then we have missed the whole point of our practice—to enjoy both the heat of discipline (sthira) as well as the cooling savoring sweetness (sukha) at the same time. If one of these two aspects is missing, then it can be said that our practice has fallen by the wayside.
The world offers itself to your imagination - Mary Oliver
As I sat with my frustration over what I was perceiving as a missed opportunity, I remembered this story a woman once told me about a dream she had. In the dream, she had died and her spirit was standing next to her human body, which was living out a vivid moment from her past.
As she watched herself interact in this specific moment, what her heart told her was that this place, this Earth, is a cherished gift. It is a place where we can create heaven or hell, that it truly is up to us, and she had created something in-between on earth. At that moment, she felt a sadness and longing.
She was able to scan her life’s many years, and see all that she had done. While she had led a good life overall, there was a tremendous void. She realized, from this dreaming perspective as a spirit, that she had missed so much opportunity. Not so much for wealth and things, but for the opportunity to create joy and love and connections in her life.
Importantly, in this dream she could “see” into the lives of those she had been most closely connected—her daughter, her husband, her birth family. She could see an energy within each of them that had been from her own imprint, and she realized what a powerful impact she had had on each of them. Not all of it was positive.
As the dream drew to a close, her sense of longing intensified for the many missed opportunities to create her own heaven on Earth. They had always been within her grasp. The opportunity to love more, play more, be more appreciative of the miracle of life. When she woke up, she said that she felt she had just had a near-death experience, and since that night, her life has never been the same.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage - Anais Nin
Yoga is both a non-dogmatic/non-religious philosophy on living (Yamas/Niyamas, Sutras, etc) and a physical practice (108 classical postures to explore), both of which continually prepare us for awakening to our own Divine nature. All too often, teachers simply teach the postures, and leave the juiciest parts of the yogic experience, the inspiration and philosophy, unexplored.
In her book Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit author and yoga teacher Donna Farhi so wonderfully explains: “Like the botanist who finally breeds the perfect rose only to discover that in the process he has lost the fragrance of the bloom, when we strip yoga to its mechanics, we also lose something essential.”
Yoga transforms a simple workout into something more profound. Fully experienced, yoga allows us to connect to powerful energies within our own heart as we stretch and strengthen our bodies. It’s often indescribable as the more esoteric elements leave us astonished, usually unable to articulate to others the wonderful feelings we often get from our practice.
So my heart-felt compassion for a fellow student’s missed opportunity somehow turned into a renewed appreciation for my own practice. I am reminded that it takes great courage to do personal growth work. I am reminded that we must all go at our own pace, and that life expands or contracts in proportion to one’s courage. I am reminded that a profound part of the human equation is a longing for connection with others and that we are all each others teachers.
Today, the world offers itself to your imagination. As you move through your practice, who are you becoming? My only suggestion: Feel free to imagine the best scenario possible.