Saturday, December 13, 2008
Looking into the Mirror of the Practice
This practice of yoga is a process of gradually learning to let go. Not only letting go of those places where we hold tension, fear, or anxiety in our present life, but also learning to release the old hurts and patterns from the past.
There are many instances when we’ve been unable to fully express the sadness, anger or heartache we’ve felt, and instead of experiencing the full intensity of these feelings we’ve learned to stuff and store these emotions within the structure of our physical body. Although at the time this containment permitted us to feel safe and in control, in the end, it creates restrictions and tensions both at a physical and psychological level.
Some days the past comes back to haunt us so strongly that we can feel its presence in the pinching sensation of our low-back, the pressure in our knees, or the heavy weight sitting in our chest. Stored memories and emotions can appear in a myriad of forms and manifestations.
As we move through the Ashtanga series of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, we gently try to coax out our fears or resentments, and unravel our memories from the dark corners of our minds, drawing them out from the fibers of our muscles. As we purify our minds, we begin to experience the removal of these emotions and memories in our physical body. This gives us the opportunity to examine their presence, and then release them from a place of distance, and eventually allow them to completely disappear.
This process requires that we be very real and honest with ourselves. It does not help to create stories or dramas about what is going on. We must focus our minds and stay completely present in the moment. It requires a degree of courage to confront the past, our patterns, and recollections, and to look these old demons straight in the eyes and say, “you will not have power over me any longer.”
It requires some bravery to step forward into the light, out from the shadow of a previous time.
Ashtanga yoga is not for the faint of heart, or for those with a “weak mind.” It encompasses a deep process of self-discovery, and reveals a certain truth about our weaknesses and strengths. This practice does not permit us to linger long in fanciful whims, mere entertainment, or escapism. It acts as a mirror that we must be willing to look into on any given day if we wish to grow and transform. The Ashtanga Yoga practice challenges us not only on a physical level, but also on the mental, emotional, and spiritual planes as well.
As students of this practice we must be open to change. There must be a willingness to let go of everything that no longer feeds our growth, and a readiness to embrace something new. Each practice contains the seed of our creation, death and rebirth. We only need to open ourselves to the experience of this process within, and then integrate the lessons we learn for the transformation to occur.
Finally, we must understand that even with the right attitude and approach, there are moments when the past jumps back into our present day to challenge us, and make us aware that there still are those hidden pieces inside that we have not yet reconciled, and areas where we are still holding onto some lingering impression of our former self.
Whether it is a grudge, a painful memory, an old belief, or an inhibiting pattern, we must be prepared to take a close look at it through the wisdom and reality of the present moment, observe any discomfort that accompanies it, and without identifying ourselves with it, permit its full release.
This ability, like everything else in our life, both on and off the yoga mat, requires practice and non-attachment (abhyasa and vairagya). Some days this process is much easier then others, but the important thing is that we continue to practice and mindfully observe the lessons and transformations as they occur.