As with many people, I started yoga as a purely physical pursuit to attain a lean and healthy body with not much interest in esoteric experiences that some yogis purport. The path of yoga, however, has a powerful transformative energy that seems to gently absorb its practitioners into a different way of viewing and being in the world. Throughout my years of studying psychology and growing within the practice of yoga, I have become particularly interested in the way that the psychological, emotional and spiritual are connected to the physical. The body is, after-all, not merely an irrelevant vessel for the souls’ existence within the world. It is a medium of being that necessarily shares every moment of our experience, holding within it the most intimate knowledge our history and a highly refined intelligence. How unfortunate that we so often tend to ignore, deny and misuse this beautiful and miraculous instrument that were gifted to live in. Even within yoga, we sometimes seem to see the body merely as a tool that we force to manipulate itself into places where the mind and ego intend for it to go rather than listening patiently and allowing it the space to open up in its own time and manner to reveal its deepest secrets and infinite wisdom. Constant observation and an acute awareness of how our body manifests itself – how it feels, how it looks, how it is aligned and proportioned – can directly inform us of hidden emotional and psychological dimensions of our being. How beautiful that each of us is created as a holistic unit in which the knowledge and powers of the Universe are housed! It is only when we begin to truly know ourselves and love and care for ourselves properly as this whole within the completeness of being, however, that we will find the peace and happiness for which we are created.
I feel so blessed to have learnt so much on my journey so far. It has been truly inspirational and transformational. I have just left Thailand after practising with the beautiful ashtanga teachers, Kirsten Berg and Mitchell Gold, and, man, have they been incredible. Inspirational not only in their yoga practise and teaching but also and perhaps most profoundly in the beautiful yogic way in which they live their lives.
The most recent lesson on my journey has been a reiteration of what I surely know but definitely forget: That my practice should support optimal living as oppose to smothing or controlling other forms of expression and pleasure. Basically it comes down to the old saying, “Everything in moderation…even moderation in moderation” or should we say to the Ashtangis “…even yoga practise in moderation”. Many Ahtangis tend to forget or ignore this simple wisdom. Forgetting sometimes to enjoy life, maybe even to enjoy their practise. I have decided to put joy first in my practise and life from now on. True, some situations make it tremendously difficult to genuinely enjoy. But every situation is an experience and there can be joy in merely experiencing each situation as it is. As if life were one big experiment, we could find joy in every observation.
Yes, I may just be becoming an optomist of the most irritating kind.
But seriously, why not jsut forget about higher purposes and the deeper meaning of life and just experience reality with childlike wonderand purity? I think we could find ourselves enjoying a life lived like this.
Some wisdom from Epictetus: “There is a time and place for diversions and amusement, but you should never allow them to override your true purposes. If you were on a voyage and the ship anchored in a harbor, you might go ashore for water and happen to pick up a shellfish or a plant. But be careful; listen to the call of the captain. Keep your attention directed at the ship. Getting distracted by trifles is the easiest thing in the world. Should the captain call, you must be ready to leave those distractions and come running without even looking back.” When I read this I thought how funny that for so many of us the distraction is in fact our whole life and that most of us would not even know what the captain’s voice sounded like or how to respond. So out of touch with our true purpose, with our true path. For many this journey that I am making may be considered a distraction or deviation from constructive living. And I thought of it that way too for a long time in fact; a kind of break from reality to gain some perspective and understanding of where my life is and should be headed. Ironic that more and more I am beginning to think that this is in fact purposeful living; in this space of being I am creating more positive energy than I ever could in the daily routine of trivialities. Was the life that I was living daily in blind “routine reality” not just a distraction from the alive and awake state of being that is our true heritage? I don’t know to be honest. I just hope that my path continues to facilitate in me feeling as complete, peaceful and happy as I am feeling in this space. I hope that what I have gained can have some impact on other people’s lives and enrich their journeys. I know I’m getting awfully hippy-ish vibrations but such is the nature of these types of journeys. One cannot resist the flow.
The last day of my India adventure is upon me. I am trying to reflect on what I have learnt in the first leg of my journey and my mind is left completely blank. This may not sound very reassuring but I feel that this is in fact the most perfect reaction. It is not an empty blankness; it is a content blankness full of peace and wellbeing. Satisfaction with the feeling that I have grown, that I feel alive and happy, that I feel whole and healthy. It is so hard to put into words sometimes our deepest and most profound lessons and that is exactly where I am at. I guess this is not very good for the reader who wants to gain insight through my experiences but all I can say is that you have to come to India yourself and experience the magic, the realness, the complex spirit and simple primitiveness of this beautiful but mysterious country.
A little poem I wrote:
Goodbye Dear India.
You remain forever in my heart,
The lessons that you teach me,
Are of the rich aliveness of knowing,
Not the stale recitation of the known.
Your beauty absorbs my being,
And your vulgarity intrigues me.
Your kindness overwhelms my heart,
And then your cruelty leaves me confounded.
In your infinite wisdom, you always bring me back to my senses,
Back to the rawness of reality,
Somehow always leading me closer to understanding the mystery
I am deeply grateful for your lessons,
For your love and for your light.
A part of my soul remains forever yours.
One of the chief reasons that I didn’t want to come on this trip was that I didn’t feel like being alone. It’s not that I don’t like being alone. Not at all. In fact, I am sure I am one of the happiest loners; more than content to be on my ace. The thing is that I have been alone for the majority of an entire year while I was completing my studies and single-mindedly missioning with my thesis. I was tired of it. It was not easy for a hard-headed Capricorn to admit (even if only to myself) but I needed other people in my life at this time. But of course I went anyway, thinking perhaps I would meet adventurers with a similar heart in a similar space.
I have, so far, met some wonderful people but as it is with travelers, they come and they go, colliding with your life for a brief and beautiful time but then moving on to new adventures. The impermanence of travel friends is sad but at the same time almost perfect. It teaches us about fluidity in relationships and interactions with others. That we can be within someone’s reality and them within ours for only a brief time, be thankful for that time and then let it go. It teaches us that we are completely whole within ourselves and that as people move in and out of our lives, we can only share love and gratitude for that meeting. When the time is right, however, we should move on with grace, thankful for the opportunity to learn the lesson they were sent to teach us.
Although I appreciate this philosophy, I am still working on realizing this lesson within my own life. It is hard not to love others out of my own need. To share pure, unmotivated love with others simply because it overflows from within me ~ What a beautiful ideal, what an inspirational aspiration. I know that one day I will get it right.
At the moment I will continue to work on cultivating a deep, unadulterated self-love in the knowledge that I am a manifestation of the perfect and divine consciousness. As Osho (my current author) says, “Being is my wealth, not having…I am enough alone.”
My India asana experiences so far have been quite different (perhaps in terms of what others or myself might have expected from this journey) but I have learnt much more than how to perfect a couple of postures. The book I am reading, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self has also been helping me so much. I want to thank my friend Briony so much for sharing this light with me. What Stephan Cope has written really resonates with where I am at the moment in my yoga journey and has also encouraged me to look at my practice from a new perspective. Since I have recovered from my injurious time (I struggled with a chronic back spasm, sprained an intercostals muscle and then sprained my ankle…) at the end of last year, I have felt such a resistance to go into second series again. I just feel like my body is not ready. At the same time, however, I feel pressure from inside to challenge myself and go beyond. I thought perhaps that once I was in India I would be inspired to go further again. But when I got here I kept feeling something holding me back – like body does not want to go there. The first day with a new teacher is customary only to practice primary and afterwards Rolf said to me (remembering from last time that I was doing second), tomorrow you do second. I was like, er, I don’t know so much. I told him I hadn’t been practicing second recently and would like to carry on with first for a while. Anyway, basically every day since then he has asked when I will go into second again. (Most people practicing at the shala are doing some second at least). But I keep postponing. It is hard for me because I have always been driven and I like to push my boundaries and experiment with how far I can go, especially physically. But not at the moment. At the moment I just feel like the whole Universe is telling me hold back physically. Usually I just push through these types of feelings but at the moment I just want to listen, I just want to let go. To let go of always trying so damn hard. How is it that I have to turn everything that is pleasurable into something that is hard work?! Anyway, back to the asana… So I was feeling conflicted and confused about what path I should follow: the usual hardcore pushing through or perhaps a new path of awareness and compassion towards myself. Ok, now that I read it in black and white it feels silly that I even have to ask. But this stuff doesn’t come easily to me and the way I have been conditioned, it is an important part of my journey. So, just when I was needing it most, the eternally kind and considerate Universe gave some reinforcing guidance. Marci, who had been away for some time returned. I ended up having a honest heart-to-heart with her and she totally understood where I was coming from. She has had similar experiences in feeling the pressure in her Ashtanga yoga practice and agreed of course that if I felt it better to try and get deeper awareness and understanding within the primary series then that is definitely what I should do. Although I feel a bit lame that I even needed this confirmation from a third party, I feel so happy and content now that I can be true to myself and not give a damn about what or how anyone else thinks I should be practicing yoga. Or living my life. Although some may find this a very small and amateur realization it is one sure step on my path to liberation. And I couldn’t be happier with it.
I am beginning to adapt well to Westerner-style India living. Almost two weeks into my adventure and I am feeling quite settled in my ratty little room and mosquito infested environment. I have to admit though that the term adventure, at this stage of the journey, does not very accurately describe my general lifestyle – I have gotten into a nice little groove of chilling to the max. My day basically revolves around my morning yoga practice and where I should go to feed myself. Today I caught myself thinking, ‘Ah, so much to do – emails, go to the market, some washing, maybe some blogging.’ (yes, blogging has become a bit of a chore actually…) At the moment I am just loving the unproductiveness of it all – snoozing, daydreaming (uh, I mean trying to be present) and reading the day away. I feel a bit like I am living in a dream. It is surprising really that I always thought of myself as an A-type personality. It helps the occasional guilty moment that I am reading a book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, by Stephan Cope who argues that in the Western world we are obsessed with filling our lives with meaningless activities and things that augment a “False Self”, identities to which we attach ourselves but that ultimately create a mask, prohibiting us from knowing our real “True Self”, the person the Universe intended for us to be. I think that India has begun to strip me of some of my “False Self” already. The living here is so raw, so fundamentally unpretentious. One sees the best and worst of humanity. And within each moment one begins to experience oneself more clearly. Even though we manufacture ourselves to seem so different from one another, we are all the same – the poor Indian beggar, the old German, g-string donning hippy, the cold-hearted business man, the rock star, the South African girl doing yoga. We all want to find our true self, to know our true purpose and to experience real love. Although I feel unproductive and a bit lazy to be honest, I find that in this state of having no obligations, schedules or to-do lists, I can connect more deeply to myself and experience the simplicity of each moment more fully. I am so grateful and happy for this opportunity to get to know my true self without all the complications of daily living.