Although many Western practitioners of yoga “come to the mat” to heal some aspect of their body, soon enough they learn of its holistic approach. As a spiritual practice, yoga integrates our whole being rather than separates the physical, energetic, mental-emotional, wisdom and joy aspects of who we are.
Yoga’s goal of clear seeing and calm abiding translates as a cleansing of our blockages, that is, our addictions and obsessions. And it does this not by teaching us how to execute a series of yoga poses until we nail the shapes. Rather, each pose or shape we practice is intended to reveal where in our body we are blocked.
For instance, in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog), you might feel sensations of tightness or gripping in your calf muscles. Another person might feel as though their shoulder joints and wrist joints are going to collapse. While yet someone else might feel their heart rate accelerate and their breath shorten. Or, how about the person who feels anger arise as the length in the pose increases.
In each of these people, their unique past experiences, psychology and biology combine for a unique experience and expression of Adho Mukha Svanasana. Next time you are in a yoga class notice the many representations of this or any other pose.
What never ceases to amaze me about yoga is how it goes beyond the external presentation of a pose and teaches us about our internal experience of that shape in that present moment. Of course, our experience of the shape can change from hour to hour and day to day. In other words, much is determined by the present moment we are in and how we are perceiving it. Through this inner journey of awareness, we have the opportunity to clear out old holding patterns (physical, mental and emotional habits) that have held us back from being our happiest, most authentic self.
As we move in and out of our expression of each pose, we slowly begin to move energy into these blocked areas. Feeling and listening to what arises in our bodies and our minds builds our capacity to focus our attention where it is needed. As we all know, where attention goes, energy flows.
It is our free-flowing energy (life force, breath, awareness) that activates and engages the healing systems within us. In time and with a regular practice, our stronger and more flexible body and our more concentrated and quieter mind reach a state of greater balance. As each layer of compulsion and falsehood is peeled away, we feel more gratitude, more peace, more love and more joy.
As Joseph Campbell defined life, we are all on a hero’s journey. We are rediscovering and reclaiming our inner hero, the being we know to be our truth. And as my poem below imparts, we are awakening our hero within.
Like unwanted calcium deposits, we chip away scar tissue
to uncover inner worth and dulled brilliance.
Life’s slow steady polishing reveals true sparkle when
each diamond-like core reflects the colours of the universe.
Coming together within unifies the disparate.
Such joining announces the entry of new ways and means
for extinguishing the past’s hold.
Lost is the critic clamouring to judge worth.
Fresh innocent eyes view each moment. Worthiness is clear,
and we rejoice in who we are.
Practising the finely detailed work of living, not unlike polishing gem facets, smooths impurities away.
What remains is the glory within each carat.
No longer seeking glitter outside the self, the journey within mines buried treasures. The awakened hero’s discovered bounty is faceted with courage, clarity and compassion.