The basis practice of yoga is self-inquiry which, through this process, we create change within ourselves. Before I started practicing yoga, I was more selfish and immature. The grass always seemed greener on the other side of the fence. Yoga changed my world perspective and philosophy in a way that has helped me live my life with more grace and integrity. I care for myself and others more deeply, my eating habits have become conscious choices and my friendships have evolved. I no longer spend time with people who are addicted to drinking and drugs, or those that spend their time gossiping about other people. I look for people who help me feel good about myself and those who are more happy and have goals in their life.
As I have aged, my physical yoga practice has changed as well. I am not so determined to move my body into unnatural shapes anymore. I am not so demanding of myself in my practice either. This is not to say that I don't enjoy challenging myself and working slowly into postures that I have been unable to. I realized that yoga isn't about the postures we can get our bodies into but it is about learning to sit still, to become the witness to everything that is passing through my awareness, like laying on my back in a grassy meadow and just watching the clouds morph from one form into another. I think the most beneficial gift I have received from the practice is to learn to just be comfortable with myself.
By studying yoga and practicing it, I have learned that everything I need is right here within me. I just need to sit with myself and get quiet enough for me to see and feel it. Yoga, I think, is simply a foundation to open the body so we can sit without any body pain. When we can sit comfortably, we can create the stillness needed for deep self introspection.
Many times when I sit, my mind is just a constant stream of random thoughts, worries and aggravations. It's like my mind cannot be quiet because it wants time to process my experiences throughout my day. Over time and with guidance, I have developed the practice of just sitting two times per day, in the morning and evening, and instead of trying to meditate and feel unsuccessful, I just sit without any expectations and watch the patterns in my mind emerge and dissipate. There are times when I don't feel stillness in my mind at all but by simply taking time out of my day and sitting with myself it allows me to connect with my authentic self.
Just like I must do each time I step onto my yoga mat, I look at it as an opportunity to be with myself and connect with the Divinity within me. One of my yoga teachers once told me that a sign of an advanced practitioner is someone who knows when to back off, someone who can recognize the feelings in the body in each pose. If something doesn't feel right and my body begins to shake or the rhythm of my breath is off, this is a sign that something is either mis-aligned or that I am going too deep, too fast. Then I need to back off and return to the rhythm of my breath.
Injuries in yoga, in my opinion, can be prevented when we learn not to push ourselves. We are taught to push and compete in so many other aspects of our lives. Yoga is not a sport or even exercise! We are not meant to multi-task in yoga. It is a process of continuing to practice daily and focus our mind, to move in coordination with our breath to evolve our consciousness. Yoga is about transformation and liberation! There is no competition with ourselves or others. What we may have been able to do yesterday may not be the case today. The practice of yoga changes everyday, to show us that nothing is permanent and that we must become flexible in our minds as well as our bodies.
Yoga is a practice that is not just done on the mat. It is a lifestyle and a reflection of how we chose to live our lives. Are we living with awareness or moving through it on auto-pilot? Yoga is reflected in our thoughts and in how we treat people. It is not about how bendy we can be or what advanced pose we can get into. There are no "shoulds" in yoga. Yoga is an unfoldment and revelation of the human spirit. It is individual and unique for each person. It is a gift to be valued and shared and expressed in our own way.
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