The iconography of the yoga world transports would-be practitioners into an idyllic scene of blooming lotus flowers and gently flowing estuaries. The promise of sincere yoga practice is that this paradisiacal realm of inner peace is one day be attainable for all practitioners who commit themselves fully. Yet the “real” yoga often feels more like a brutally honest mirror of our life experience than a blissful walk in the park. There is a period of time when all yoga practitioners confront the injuries, obstacles and pain that prevent them from experiencing the grace and ease of life on other side of the looking glass of life. The search for this inner sanctuary is a winding road that passes directly through all the chaos, ungroundedness, past hurt and trauma that we thought we were running away from into the serene world of spirituality. We cannot look for the seemingly impenetrable infinitude outside of ourselves; instead we must look directly within. The only truly lasting flash of effervescence is the landscape of our own soul discovered and experienced first hand through daily diligence and sincere spiritual practice. The bridge to this highly illusive, deceptively simple and heartbreakingly ordinary world of lasting peace can only be crossed by the most worthy of seekers.
Whereas in “real” life we have the entertainment of work, family and general busyness to distract us from our sleeping demons, in the silence of yoga we have only ourselves, our breathe and our body to lead us directly into the heart of our own darkness. In the midst of the greatest trials in yoga the direction given is to maintain compassionate disregard of the outcome, observe without judgment the passion play of our life and walk the middle way between attachment and aversion. In the midst of our greatest trials we often plead with the universe for deliverance from a savior, yet yoga asks every practitioner to find salvation within and believe in their own ability to save themselves against all odds. In doing so each practitioner gets the chance to discover a part of themselves within that is inalienable, indestructible and eternal. Faith is the ability to believe in something that you not only do not see, but something that seems to be impossible. Yoga teaches the life skills needed to attain mastery over the mind so that when you stand at the foot of any seemingly impossible mountain you will be strong enough to have faith that you will find the way to possibility and reach the summit.
Life is a kind of university where we are each enrolled in various areas of specialization based on our interests and learning needs. Yoga can be understood like the gifted program because it asks you to go deeper into the core issues at hand in this giant teaching facility called life. On the yoga mat lessons are magnified until we find the courageous heart that is able to face them. Yoga is an accelerated vehicle for life learning. When we feel a certain emotion on the yoga mat in a challenging posture it is often a trigger for a repetitive emotional state in our lives. If we feel the same feelings divorced from the typical triggers upon which we normally associate the blame for these reactions the logical conclusion one day will be that it is time to take responsibility for the feelings as our own. It is sometimes easier to befriend the traumas that seem larger than life when they appear in the microcosm of the asana. Instead of the deeply entrenched behavior cycle of years of living being re-enacted yoga offers you a chance at freedom from the past. By focusing on the breathe, the posture and point of attention within you are able to stay in the present moment, cultivate an equanimous mind and break away from damaging behaviors.
The daily practice of asana allows yoga practitioners to experiment within the laboratory of their own bodies. Beginning at the place where a particular movement seems impossible yoga teaches you how to slowly stay with your body over a period of time in a listening, nurturing and loving state of mind until that impossible movement gradually shifts into possibility. Through yoga we learn how to live a more conscious, enlightened life by practicing first on the testing ground of our own bodies. The best scenario is that we learn to listen when it is time to hear, open when we need to receive, bend or strengthen at just the right moment, give when there are those in need and see when we are called upon to bear witness all through a compassionate knowingness within. This calm self-assurance is the spiritual confidence that we gain when through the test case of our own body we progress from disbelief into faith and finally realize our own goals. We can then take that confidence building experience off the mat and into our lives and become better people living healed lives. By accomplishing the impossible physical posture we tap into a part of ourselves that is truly beyond the physical. After we touch that eternal place within we are more likely to believe in ourselves when we face seemingly impossible situations in our lives. Small moments of personal accomplishment give us the ability to develop empirical proof that we are larger and much more powerful than we ever imagined. Yoga gives us the chance to believe in ourselves beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt by providing us with a series of impossible movements and activities that we one day accomplish with grace and ease.
Along the road to the realization of impossible postures yoga teaches us that the real impossibility we strive towards is no mere physical form, but is a state of inner peace that is completely imperturbable. The consciousness of eternal peace is the classically paradoxical comprehension that the real goal is in essence the journey itself. In order to “get” anywhere along the lifelong spiritual path of yoga one of the most basic lessons is to realize there is nowhere really to go. This letting go is the release of attachment and desire that leads to a truly peaceful state of mind. Only when you tune into the place within where you are already happy and content will enjoy the ride of life regardless of where you perceive yourself to be along the road. With a loving heart that is not attached to outcome you will live the joyous life of a yogi and apply your now stronger, calmer mind to any goal and expect to see better results. You will know that your happiness is not dependent of the achievement of the outcome and therefore be truly happy.
Once your self-worth is separated from the outcome of your actions you win your freedom from emotionality blurring your integrity along the way. Yoga asks you to learn that who you are is grander, larger and more connected than you ever dreamed and that you are only yourself when you rest in this higher awareness. When you remain non-attached to the results of your actions you also have more space to think through the process with clarity and be open to the solution when it presents itself. The greatest teaching of yoga is also the greatest paradox of life. If you want something so badly that it makes you a lesser person for wanting it you will also hold yourself apart from your goal by the very intensity of your desire. At the same time you must commit yourself fully to any process in order to get the results you want. Solving the riddle of just how much effort, luck, openness, thoughtfulness and perseverance to put in is the mystery of life. Yoga teaches you how to walk this thin red line between belief and impossibility, goals and attachment and temporality and eternity with grace and ease. Thus, by doing yoga you also learn how to master the game of life.