I cannot say how my life would have been different without the influence of a regular Hatha Yoga practice, but I believe its quality has been much enriched because of it. I am immensely grateful that I discovered a book about yoga in my late teens and eagerly began reading it. Yoga’s current widespread influence and recognition are such a contrast to that time in Western Canada, where it was almost completely unknown.
The book contained a thorough and clearly explained set of exercises with simple line drawings. My exploration of Hatha began. A few years later, beginning a committed meditation practice, I stopped Hatha but later resumed it, finding the learnings that arose from the poses complemented the stillness of sitting.
I was fortunate to receive teaching and training in a method of Hatha (Yasodhara Yoga) that included a written reflective element with the poses. This reflection augmented the improvements in balance, flexibility, and relaxation, and brought a deeper awareness of the mind-body relationship. I learned that the body held unconscious knowledge and information that became available through the conscious interaction with the Asanas. When finding a tense or locked muscle while engaging in a pose, it offered insights and understandings that unlocked hidden areas of my mind.
For example, I discovered concepts about what commitment means, how ideals can change and evolve, and how to penetrate the tangle of my responsibilities and sort out which were mine and which belonged to others. Once, when investigating my associations with the idea of surrender, an experience occurred that confirmed the potency of these explorations. Relaxing and stretching into the sitting forward bend, allowing associations with the word surrender to arise in body and mind, I connected for a moment with the freedom that surrender can mean. In that moment of insight, my body released as if it had become like a rag doll, folded over, and resting on my legs. Never before and never since has such a complete release happened in the pose, but something was revealed about this interaction of body and mind, and about the true potential of surrender.
Understanding of trauma has emerged in recent years, how it can block energy in the body, be passed from generation to generation, and be carried collectively in a culture. I have gained a deeper appreciation for how Yoga can gently and steadily unlock the places in the mind and body where trauma is held. In Chinese Medicine, rooted in the spiritual practice of Taoism, it is the blocking or hindering of the flow of energy (qi) that causes pain, disease, and mental disharmony. Yoga allows the flow of energy to be restored in a safe manner that is right for the practitioner, that opens and unfolds at the right time.
Many years ago, I heard a story about the Dalai Lama’s advice concerning attention. He invited questions after
finishing a talk to a packed hall at the University of New Mexico.
A woman eagerly asked, “Your Holiness, what is the single most important thing I could give attention to?”
He immediately answered, “Routine.”
The person relating the story had lived as a monk for decades and said, “I understood immediately. In my order, the rule, or routine, was the highest order of attention, that is, being attentive to what one did every day, because what we do is what we become.”
This anecdote provided much to consider about my choices each day. It still does. The regular routine of a Yoga practice becomes a treasure house for learning. Hatha(as well as other Yoga practices) has been a tool for transformation, and continues to be, especially in realizing that it is a practice – I’m practicing for my life. The learnings that emerge through the day’s session are applicable throughout the rest of the day, the rest of life.
The regularity of the practice lets me catch subtle changes. I discover hitherto unnoticed tightness and it releases ever so slightly g. I notice how a subtle press with my fingers changes the alignment of my hips, or that my breath is deep, or my attention is wandering.
After all this time, it also surprises me to see how some days I resist the practice. Long-term benefits in abundance, and the short-term immediate benefit of bringing flow and balance into my body, do not succeed in countering a part of the mind that resists, looks for reasons to do something else. Really? But in recognizing and naming that resistance (instead of trying to pretend it isn’t there or justifying its presence) I’ve gained an understanding of how resistance feels and how it turns up in other areas of my life. Those insights have revealed procrastination, avoidance, justification, and excuse-making. Seeing it in action, I can choose otherwise, just like I choose to maintain the Hatha practice. Because again, I’m practicing for my life, learning what supports my ideals, learning how to make available all the energy I have in the expression and offering of those ideals.
Some days my concentration is poor, my mind wanders, I realize I was not even present during a particular pose. Some days it’s different. The regularity of the practice has released judgments about how I did that day, and this transfers to other areas of life, letting go of ideas of how I should be doing better after all this time. I’m in it for the long haul. I keep the practices going. I learn. Refinement happens.
The purpose is awareness. I’m learning how to use this life, this body, this mind, to serve the whole through offering light, love, compassion in the circumstances that arise each day. I recognize where those offerings fall short of the ideal, both on and off the mat. And I continue learning that another opportunity will arise each day, each moment, to live in balance and harmony with my ideals.