Over the past two years, I have been caught in the midst of some very serious family drama. Despite my desire to retire immediately to a secluded island in the Pacific, I was obliged to continue to deal with normal day-to-day issues – how to pay the bills without giving up on my dreams, how to fit in my (almost daily) yoga practice and still be productive at work, how to be true to my needs and yet continue to be present for my friends and family, how to (occasionally) eat delicious foods without getting a tummy ache… I think you get the idea.
In order to deal with the familial quagmire, I needed to speak to people I had not spoken to in years. This was not easy for me. I had to do some serious soul-searching in order to approach them with equanimity. Fortunately, this situation made me discover that I could do without the anger and resentment I had been traveling with for so many years. I no longer wanted to be a victim. I decided to allow myself to forgive the past for not living up to my expectation of how it should have been. I appealed to myself to acknowledge that we all make mistakes, myself included. I realized sometimes you need to give up what you have been holding on to in order to begin anew. I would never have been able to do this without yoga.
My friends can tell you that I believe in the healing powers of yoga, but most of them probably could not tell you why. I am writing this now, because I want to explain that I see yoga as a very practical route to resolving conflict within ourselves and, in turn, the world we live in.
We are intrinsically a part of the fabric of our families, our communities, our nations, our Earth. We must somehow learn how to navigate the waters of life. This is where yoga comes in for me. Through the first limb of yama as discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we are taught how to be better citizens of this world. These precepts teach us how to be constructive and compassionate by letting go of violence, dishonesty, theft, indulgence and greed. Niyama, the second limb, reinforces the first by advising purity, contentment, self-study, self-control and surrender. The yogic practice of asana or posture follows the yama and niyama in the eight limbs of astanga yoga. This is not by mistake. Though we place much emphasis on the physical practice in the West and many of us confuse the practice of asana with the broader path of yoga, the postures alone do not lead to transformation.
Friends, my practice is not just a series of physical exercises, but a journey of discovery of my true Self. I may need to be a part of society (not all of us can run away to the hills to meditate on the nature of existence), but I can do so mindfully, with humility and acceptance of what is and what is to be. When observing my actions (and reactions) more holistically, my practice of yoga then becomes a process of letting go – a release of old habits, of ego, of expectation, of non-acceptance. It takes on a new form that helps me to face life in new, more productive ways. It helps me to be free.