In our era of measuring ourselves against other – more likes, views, shares, and material stuff – is it surprising that yoga has fallen foul of our competitive nature? Yoga teacher and Shiatsu practitioner Lys Wild describes how injury and pain forced her to look within, with surprising rewards.
My sense is that, amidst the never-ending workshops, classes and retreats that yoga offers, we have lost our sense of ‘within’. That flicker of calm and peace that attempts to awaken us in our moments of asanic perfection, snoozing sivasana or list-making meditation.
An exotic spice
Countless times of enquiring have revealed that yoga practice for many consists of the number of classes they attend each week. Listing the teachings as one would a grocery list, paying special attention to the special classes as if talking about an exotic spice on the shop shelf that had literally leapt down and blessed them.
Not that I’m suggesting there are not fabulous yoga teachers out in the world. Far from it. For in-between the selfies and Beer yoga offerings there lies a rich tapestry of people who have deep value and integrity in their teaching. Nonetheless, where is within?
Rebel at heart
I could at this juncture list a bundle of names to validate myself. Lineages and trainings to gratify others that I am indeed qualified to be an ‘authority’ in this matter. That being the matter of being within. However, I think this misses the point entirely. Besides I am a rebel at heart and as such wish to remain, for the purposes of this article, just a puzzled yogi.
Suffice to say I will add that I have had 25 yrs of daily practice and have offered numerous teachings over the years.
Why am I puzzled?
Well, it seems to me that the quality of a fine teaching is only as helpful as the tools you can take home with you. Surely once you have learnt enough from another you would want to take the step to practice, alone? Only returning to fine-tune your personal practice and in turn to inspire other students?
Apparently, for many, this just isn’t the route. Rather giving authority for your body, mind and spirit to another is preferable. Five times a week or more. Amid cries of “I don’t have enough time for personal practice”
So yes, I’m puzzled.
Did I miss the point?
A precious tool
You see for me yoga is a precious tool that has served to deepen my internal landscapes.
In the early years after a few intensive weeks of learning yoga on retreats, I decided to confront my inner demons and roll out the mat. Every morning.
And every morning I faced all of my resistance, from body pain to mental games. On and on it went, but something kept me coming back day after day. In the beginning, I think it was sheer bloody-mindedness, but after a time momentary glimpses into the sea of calm and depth within held me on course.
And that growing sense is what has really defined my practice in the years since.
Momentary glimpses into the sea of calm and depth
I learnt quickly that too much repetitive physical practice overextended my body. And although the vinyasa flows gave glorious rushes of endorphins and a sense of power over my physical form, it did not come near to the vast and profound ocean that true listening gave me.
This true listening is a listening that requires one to come to your mat each day with fresh eyes and a willingness to let go of perceptions of what yoga is or is not. The courage then to step into the unknown of meeting yourself with all the tools you have learnt and to allow what unfolds to unfold in that moment.
Injury and pain
This was a huge turning point for me, as was injury, another great teacher.
Endowed as I was with a fair degree of physical flexibility meant that in my younger days of learning in classes I was often earmarked as the ‘perfect posture’ student. A phrase that now sends me screaming for the hills!
At the time in pursuit of pleasing the teacher and fluffing up my ego I eventually sustained ligament injury. On top of this, I also managed to injure my body off the mat.
My body dictated the path
So suddenly personal daily practice became essential, and classes and workshops faded as I could no longer keep up with the teacher’s requirements. My body now dictated the path clearly and pushed me to discovery and the deepest listening I have ever experienced.
I contest that there is nothing more focusing than pain.
And practising with pain is an overwhelmingly humbling process.
All I could do was lie and rock
It was here that I reached furthest within. In those quiet mornings when all I could do was lie and rock or spend the whole session moving into the gentlest of forward bends, cell by cell, breath by breath, I learned more than I have ever learned before.
The depth was astonishing and the quality of that profound meeting with myself has never departed.
Giving myself permission
In giving myself permission to be where I was in my practice, I found myself there. Exactly where I had been all along.
This is the quality that a truly quiet and listening daily practice brings. To be receptive enough to be as you are, beyond learned forms.
And whilst my journey was defined, in part by pain, I suggest that yours does not need to be.
Be as you are
I can hear you mumbling about there not being enough hours in the day for a daily practice. So, for now, I suggest you forget your mat, the candlelit room, inspiring music and dawn light.
Instead, take a moment to follow your breath as it expands into your precious lungs and let this moment be your practice. This attention to your existence in time and space. From here, who knows maybe you will feel inspired to explore further.
This is where within lives
Classes are valuable resources, but treat them as such and not as the be-all and end-all. For truly the richness you bring to your humanity comes from within you. This is where within lives.
Our only task is to be willing to visit that place each day either for a breath or full dawn exploration.