Life doesn’t always behave the way we demand it to, and the more we demand of our own life, the less it likes to follow expectations.
In Yoga Teacher Training as well as Yoga Therapy Training, we easily talk about yoga as more than a physical practice—it is rather the mindful way in which we practice our life. In fact, some support the idea that the asana, or physical practice of yoga, was created to help quiet the yogi’s mind so that they may better be able to meditate and “live” the yogi lifestyle according to the sutras, yamas, and niyamas.
All well and good until our physical body betrays us, and renders us unable to practice yoga asana.
I find myself in this quandary now. My physical body has taken me back to the hospital, a place of fear, sickness, and claustrophobia. A place that is full of “no’s” and limitations rather than freedom and exploration. This place has always been the direct opposite of where I desire my life.
But I know this much: Yoga is much more than asana. So then, what is a true practice of yoga, and how can I practice it with tubes and machines coming out my chest and arms?
My yoga for this week will not go as planned. My 10 day commitment to arm balances was taken from me on day two of my practice and replaced with a hospital bed and monitors that beep when I try to sneak in yoga anyway (of course I tried this!). But perhaps this experience opens a different, seemingly more challenging opportunity: to practice the yoga of my soul.
So today, I choose sutras that I will focus and meditate on: how can I bring yoga into my life in this moment? How can I achieve yoga with my mind and spirit while it temporarily eludes my physical body?
During an intense discussion of the Yoga Sutras a short month ago, we discussed the idea of becoming a neutral seer without memories, feelings, and emotions attached that often cloud how we view a current event. Our wise teacher posed the question of labels- why does an event have to be “bad” or “good”? Why can it not simply be the event your soul has to find on its own life journey?
Sutra 1.3 …then the seer abides in his own true form. Marshall Govindan expands, “see things as they really are; as the seer- not as the feeler.”
A good question, right about now as my hips ache for a hip opener and my body calls for a deep pigeon, might simply be why should I focus on my spiritual body when my physical body is what has landed me here and keeps me from “my yoga”- the asana?
But this question takes away from who I am. I am not my physical body. Just as I am not a brain-injured patient, I am not a yogi with a beautiful, deep, back bending, toes-touching the head pigeon.
Sutra 1.4 …otherwise there is an identification by the self with the fluctuations of consciousness (moods, emotions, hopes, fears, preconceived ideas, etc). Govindan writes a practice for this sutra: ‘Remember the inner Self which always remains in a state of equaniminity, which lies behind all experiences, like string, holding the necklace of beads together.’
My yoga for this week transforms from arm balances, to this: How can I see my hospitalization without identifying with my past memories, my fears, and my emotions as tied down as this tubing? And how can I keep my inner self stable, safe, peaceful, and holding together the pieces of my own necklace despite the fluctuations of my physical body?
Today I’ll start out slow. Sutra 1.1 Now begins Yoga. Be in the now. I’ll identify my feelings, but with that, I’ll try to do so as the observer, not as the inner storyteller who creates a deep and painful journey in which my body has overtaken my soul and I am a powerless victim. I will simply identify where I am, and how I feel. But the story— today I will not allow myself to create a story.
Next, I’ll see things as they really are. Sutra 1.3. I’ll see them in the now, rather than in the memories and the fears of the future. Today, I am here. This is all I know for today. So today, I am here. Today, this is the journey my soul will travel. It doesn’t have to be labeled as the worst journey a person could travel. But it also doesn’t have to be labeled as a blessing or a beautiful thing. It is simply my journey today.
And last, I will find my inner self and meditate on ways in which I can keep it in a state of equanimity (Sutra 1.4). This is perhaps my most challenging yoga for today. I will not give my physical weakness or even strength greater power over my inner self and spirit. And I will find a way to find peace in my inner being, which transcends all reliance on outer workings.
Today, my physical body can betray me. But my spirit is still here, and through yoga training and teaching has tools not everyone has access to. Today I will learn to keep my spirit steady despite the fluctuations of the world directly around me. Today I will practice perhaps the hardest yoga of all- the yoga of the spirit. And today, I will know that though my 10 day arm balance challenge is not currently available to me, I have been presented with a new challenge- yoga in its truest form. Today, I will have peace, just for today, just for now, peace.
Read more about my yoga journey here
Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas by Marshall Godivindan