Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the what yoga has meant to me. At the end of August, it was the six year anniversary of my graduation from teacher training. Soon, I will celebrate my 30th birthday, a seeming milestone and, at least for me, a time to consider where I am in my life. As I think about my journey, it's inescapable what a profound impact yoga has had. It also just so happens to be National Yoga month so it seems like the perfect time to contemplate this path of yoga*.
The following are a handful of quotes and teachings that have had the most profound effect on me (though there are certainly many more!). I hope you enjoy my musings and I would love to hear your thoughts and any quotes or teachings that have moved you.
"Atha yoga nushasanam (Now, the inquiry of yoga)" Yoga Sutra 1-1
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is one of the fundamental texts on yoga. There are two things I love about this opening line. First, is the word "now". Now the inquiry of yoga. Not when you've lost five pounds or become a vegan or can touch your toes. Right now, as you are, with all the light and shadow we as humans possess. In an age of the "Instagram Yogi" performing super human feats of strength and flexibility, I find this to be a comforting reminder that yoga does not, in fact, require you to be anything other than what you are right now.
I also love the word "inquiry". This is one of many different translations (others include "study" and "learning") but it is my favorite. If you've been to my class, you know that I often say yoga is like a science experiment. You are free to play, to explore, to try things. Having come to yoga from the more rigid, performance-minded discipline of ballet, it took me a while to be able to relax in to the practice (rather than feeling like I needed to perform it). In that exploration, I have found so much more freedom and compassion that has, like so many of these things, rippled out into my life off the mat.
"My Beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself,
you break your own heart." Swami Kripalu
I remember the first time I heard this quote from Swami Kripalu. I immediately started to cry. I had spent so much of my life "breaking my own heart", judging and comparing myself, believing any self worth I might possess hinged on me being "better" than someone else. Yoga helped me to change and heal this habit that was so ingrained I didn't even realize it could be changed. Through the practice of compassionate self-awareness (the root practice and goal of Kripalu yoga), I was able to undue years of this heartbreak and learn new, more helpful and long lasting practices to deal with, well, me. And on that note...
"Yoga is the practice of dealing with the consequences of being yourself." The Bhagavad Gita
This is maybe my favorite quote from another preeminent book of Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita. I remember being struck by it plastered on a stairway at Kripalu. It seems like such an odd phrase. What does that even mean? While I imagine the meaning may morph as my journey continues, this is how I feel now.
One of the ripple effects of yoga for me has been a clearer understanding of who I am. For a lot of my life, I was the consummate people please-er. In an effort to be liked, accepted, and not rock the boat, I learned to become what I thought other people needed me to be. While I was liked and accepted and didn't rock the boat, I also didn't have any clue who I really was. Through this journey, I have really gotten to know myself and and feel so much more comfortable speaking in my own voice. Of course, that means that not everyone is going to like what I say or even who I am. And that's ok! Strengthening my inner reserve of self-worth and self-knowledge lets me "deal with the consequences of being myself".
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Viktor Frankl
While not a strictly "yoga quote", this piece of wisdom from the great Viktor Frankl sums up what I think is the most powerful effect of yoga (and, frankly, deserves its own blog post). I think many of us move through life on this immediate, and often superficial, reactions to our lives. It's a habit so ingrained it doesn't even seem like something changeable. And, even just gathering from my own life (though the state of the world is a good example also), I have made a lot of really bad and hurtful decisions because of this. Not to say I only ever make good decisions now, but, the point is this. Yoga opens up your awareness and it gives you choice. You are aware that you can choose to panic or breath or give up if you're running late to something. You can choose to fight or talk or be passive aggressive in an argument with your partner. You can choose and you are more aware of the consequences of your choice. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all did that?
*As a note, when I say "yoga" throughout this post, I mean the whole of yoga. This includes self-awareness, breathing, and meditation practices, as well as asana.