Yoga heals. After a brush with death in my thirties, Yoga’s healing magic is what moved me to teach. I’ve had such profound experiences in this realm that when I had reconstructive surgery on my foot late last year I was eager to get back to my mat as quickly as possible.
But I can’t practice…
Being on crutches for three months was humbling. I went from agile to uncoordinated overnight. I took tumbles in the most public places, bruising my body and my pride. I needed help with everything. Being in a state of forced non-doing, I realised that I defined myself by what I do. What I do for myself (independence), what I do for others (service). What I do on the mat (self-worth). I knew that ‘doing’ had nothing to do with who I really am; yet without it I felt adrift. But removing the very thing that had defined me is precisely what led me back to the heart of yoga. I had to see myself differently. Who am I when I’m dependent? When I’m being served? When I can’t teach? Who am I when I can’t ‘do’ yoga?
I’m still learning…
An ‘off the mat’ practice refers to the subtler nuances of yoga that are accessed via the physical practice. Going to a class and making shapes with your body can be anything from cross training to stress reduction, to therapy. There’s a difference between asana and yoga. Often we experience asana as the main event, where progress is measured by the poses you’ve mastered and how many of them are on Instagram, rather than by the quality of your relationship with yourself, others, and your world. Going to yoga solely for its physicality isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t automatically give you access to what Christina Sell calls the ‘something more’ of yoga. The ‘something more’ tests your perceptions, your sense of who you are and your place in the world. It attunes you to the beauty of your moments, and helps you de-emphasise the ‘doing’ that can keep you separate from your source of unconditional love.
What in life is not yoga?
Getting into a new pose isn’t what deepens your practice. For me, it was not getting a new pose that sparked growth. Without the ability to ‘do’ I remembered that at its core, yoga is engaging skilfully with all of life. Ultimately, everything you do is a kind of pose. Every person you engage with, every thought you have, every word you speak, both silently and aloud. Life is full of opportunities to practice yoga, whether we can do the poses or not. In the end, what in life is not yoga?
Photo Credit: Pete Longworth