Updated: Oct 31, 2020
“As you are on the mat, you are in the world.” - the ever-inspiring Coral Brown (www.coralbrown.com)
I once read that your yoga practice is like holding a mirror up to your life. My late partner used to say, “You should to go have a chat with yourself in the mirror about that.” Can we use our yoga mat to have a “chat” with ourselves? In short, I think yes.
Are we truly ourselves on the mat? Are we honest? Does our yoga practice represent who we really are? Or are we striving for something else, to be something else? If we are “striving”, is it realistic and honouring our true nature?
I believe the mat is a mirror, but it can be one of those fun fare mirrors that distorts our image – either making us grossly imperfect or superhuman strong. Or is it like the rear-view mirror in Jurassic Park, where objects appear larger and more terrifying? I know I have intensely felt all of this. We can see ourselves and our practice through the filter or veil of past experiences. The ultimate aim of our practice is to drop the filter or pierce through the veil. We react to present situations through our veil of experiences or “stuff”.
There is a famous parable, often used in Yogic and Vedantic Philosophy teaching to illustrate this concept.
The Rope and the Snake: A man takes a stroll along a path in the dark at night and sees a poisonous snake ahead of him. In terror he runs to flea from the danger of the venomous creature. The next morning, he returns and walks along the same path in the daylight. He finds, not a snake, but a coiled-up piece of rope.
The philosophical message here is that when you are in the dark it is hard to see reality. In the light we can see through our veil and everything is much clearer, the rope is just a rope. When we are in the dark and reacting to situations through our “stuff”, we often react in fear and run in the opposite direction.
Growing up, I never felt I was good enough. Academic grades were not good enough (despite gaining Honours and Masters degrees), I wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, blah, blah, blah. I was just never good enough.
As I became more and more committed to my yoga practice and training these feelings of “not good enough’ began to surface, and the more I cared, the more I committed, the stronger these feelings became. So strong, in fact, that I considered stopping practicing all together rather than deal with any of it.
Although, it wasn’t all due to “my stuff”. You all know I’m a huge admirer of Alexandria Crow. Alex is publicly vocal about how modern high-performance yoga, and the teaching practices that support it, have led to these feelings of “not good enough” and “crash & burn” in many practitioners. If you are interested in this area, I encourage you to find Alex online (www.yogaphysics.com).
So, we have increasingly physical yoga practices, where we are openly praised in class for nailing a physical posture or shape. That with the combination of my non-hyper mobile body and bruised, imperfect soul looking for answers, is it any wonder that I almost threw in the towel?
I decided to stick with it and do the work to get through my stuff. Patanjali in The Yoga Sutra’s speaks of the Klesha’s which are the 5 blocks to enlightenment. We have: Ignorance, Egoism, Attachment to worldly things, Hatred and the Desire to cling to life.
I have now realised that much of my stuff is linked to these blocks. This is what I’m doing to remove them:
· Learning more about myself through therapy and practice (meditation & asana), what is real and what is distorted through the filter of my stuff,
· Beginning to let go of the ego or my perceived self to find my true nature (the route of all suffering is the denial of our true nature, thanks Coral Brown),
· Becoming aware of what I really need, not what I must have. The physical achievement of yoga postures is something I have, quite literally, dropped kicked over the cliff. Let me tell you, it’s hugely freeing! Although, yoga leggings, gummy bears and good wine are something I’m struggling with, but hey it’s all about balance!
· Being kind to myself and taking the microscope away from all those things I don’t like. Trying to accept that I am perfect in my imperfection. We are all wonderfully human. Let’s embrace it.
· Removal of the last block is hard, particularly when a parent. Getting my head round the impermanence of life is too close to home for me and hard to do. Working on it.
So how has this work impacted my yoga practice?
I have taken the pressure off myself to get on the mat every day to practice religiously. I was feeling that my practice, as it was, had become a chore. “Pushing through” to begin a dynamic practice based on habitual patterns wasn’t working for me anymore. I would stand at the top of my mat in Samastitihi feeling the weight and demands of my impending practice, sigh, then walk straight off to do housework! Who’d have thought I’d rather do the ironing than yoga!
I now feel that my practice is more authentic, honest. I still practice on the mat, maybe 3 or 4 time per week, but I listen to what I need beforehand. Giving myself permission not to practice a particular lineage of yoga, or a predefined practice, has resulted in more creative, useful movement patterns. It has been liberating. I still practice dynamic movement, but it’s when it’s right for me. As I've said before, I no longer base my practice around drills to achieve a posture. That’s just not important to me anymore and was causing harm, emotionally and physically. Don’t get me wrong, I may still play, but I do it for fun, not to "advance" my yoga practice.
I spend more time listening and observing the movements of my mind and the resulting emotional response. Through meditation and relaxation, I’ve become more aware of this movement and the affect it has on my body. Svadhyaya (best word ever!) – self-study.
Those of you who know me know that I love to read about philosophy. I’ve delved back into the books and found that my practice and teaching has become all the richer for it.
In the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve really began to pay attention to my reflection on the mat. The result has been that I have grown more, become more attune to the needs of my body and mind. I no longer find my practice a chore. I step onto my mat, lay down and listen. That’s where the practice begins.
I would never have thought that walking into that first “Power Yoga” class, held in the local health centre, in 1999 would have put me on this road of self-exploration 20 years later.
You have to do the work. You have to look in the mirror, just make sure you do it with kind eyes. Love what you see. I’m trying to love my reflection. Vxx
You can find me teaching vinyasa classes on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings. I also teach Bed Time Yoga and Yoga Nidra on a Tuesday evening. Booking all through the website here. You can also opt to save £ by booking a class pass, here.