Keep Moving Forward
It is said that yoga is the oldest form of self-improvement in the world; it has certainly been a form of self-improvement for me. People sometimes tell me that I am looking very well, or that they like my air of calm, that my eyes are radiant or else they are surprised by the flexibility and strength that I have (even at my age!). It's very nice when people say such things, but I know that it is not me, Sarah, that they are complimenting, but yoga.
Regular and dedicated yoga practice has brought more peace, more energy, more joy and more good health into my life; it has enabled me to be more of the person I want to be (strong, calm, loving and kind), more of the time. Regular asana, meditation and pranayama practice will do this for absolutely everyone who practices it with faith, strength and love. Patanjali knew this 2,000 years ago
sraddha virya smrti samadhiprajna purvakah itaresam
Samadhi is preceded by trust, faith, memory and wisdom
There were other reasons that the ancient yogis practised yoga, the attainment of magical powers, for example. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, from around the 15th Century, talks of yoga adepts being able to levitate, the ability to shrink, the ability to move instantly across great distances; the Yoga Sutras speak of perfected yogis being able to understand the minds of others and attain knowledge of past lives, among other things.
However the ancient texts also talk of more familiar and less esoteric benefits of yoga, more in line with the ones I have described in myself. The Svetasvatara Upanishad describes how asana brings: "Lightness, freedom from disease, steadiness, clarity of complexion, sweetness of voice" II,13 The Bhagavad Gita tells us that yoga practice brings "nirvana, the state of abiding joy and peace" VI,15 and this, from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: "one gets steadiness of body and mind; diseaselessness and lightness of limbs" I,17
So yoga practice brings profound personal change and helps us to live well.
But yoga practice also brings us to deeper self-awareness, and that awareness can at times be deeply uncomfortable. In my own practice, and in observing the dedicated practice of others, I have experienced and witnessed difficult times, when something that has lain buried within, sometimes for many years, rears its head and cannot be ignored. It is said that yoga either transforms you, or else you stop doing it. In other words, it is impossible not to be transformed by yoga. But of course, we are human and we always have the choice of turning back; of turning away from painful transformation.
Ignoring personal difficulties, unresolved problems and old hurts that have not thoroughly been dealt with takes up a lot of energy. Energy that could more positively and usefully be used in living your life fully, vibrantly and for the benefit of others; for those you love. Therefore moving through pain and difficulty, resolving it and being able to move on from it is part of your yoga practice. In addition to this, pain within you that is being ignored does not go away; it is always there and can raise its head when you are at a low ebb, or when life is difficult - you'll know how your unresolved inner demons manifest themselves in you: in jealousy? in anger? in being judgmental? in weakness? in tears and self-pity?
I have written before of these moments of profound transformation as of standing at the threshold of a door. Sometimes these doors are heavy and old and the hinges are rusted and it takes an awful lot of energy, practice, faith and courage to open them and once opened to step over the threshold. But here's what I can tell you about my own practice: once you step across that threshold, you are free of whatever it was that was blocking your path and you can move forward unencumbered by it. Life feels lighter and you end up having more to give (to yourself and the world) because you are no longer carrying that weight of pain and problem around with you.
As always, we can look to Patanjali for guidance, and he tells us that during these troubling times you need three things: faith, memory and strength. Faith in the practice: it has worked for you before and it will work for you again; and faith in your teachers, who have gone before you and who can report back that the view from higher up the hill is freer and more beautiful than where you are standing now. Memory of your practice: when you feel that it's just too difficult; when the process hurts; when you would like to turn away from the pain and put it back in the box in which it has been stored, sometimes for years, remember previous transformations and how they have had a positive effect on your life. This might be something physical, such as reduced back pain, or something more subtle, like the ability to maintain calm clarity in stressful situations. Use this memory to bolster yourself through whatever it is you are experiencing in your practice and your life right now; remember that the process has worked for you before and it will do again. And know your strength: don't turn back; don't hide; don't settle for what your life has been when you could have so much more; when you can be so much more.
Right now, this moment, I am going through a period of difficulty. I look to my teachers, from Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, to friends and fellow yogis for help and encouragement during this time. This a pretty solid old door and it's a tough one to budge; in fact, this door has been holding up a part of myself for many years, so when it opens, I feel that some of the plaster's going to fly from the walls. But it's ok. I trust the process; I'm tired of this door being in my way; I wish to be free of it. I'll keep moving forward, because going back is not an option for me.
I hope that you find the teachings to help you when you come up against doors like this; I hope that you can ask for the solace of having somebody hold your hand while you work on it. It's your journey. Have the courage to free yourself from the things that are holding you back. Keep moving forward through your life.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.