True Yoga Inspiration
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is truly inspiring about yoga. I’m still evolving a lot on this, but was considering the things about yoga that help us find lasting happiness. It is very easy, if not insatiably seductive, to believe that asana are the source of inspiration and happiness in yoga. Asana is the predominant method of communicating modern western yoga in the world, and achievement in asana feels at times like the way to inspiration and lasting happiness. But this is not the case. Asana serves incredible functions in our lives on many levels, but the source of inspiration is far beyond these select contortions of the human body. The true inspiration that yoga offers is about something more intangible yet far more powerful.
I chuckle to myself as I actually think the least inspiring thing about my practice is my practice. Most of my poses look very much like everyone else’s. My inspiring handstand, I’ll save you the mystery, looks very much like me in handstand. Picture me standing on my hands and you’ve got the idea. Asana is something I do for me. What I gather from asana, I teach. What I learn from my practice, I share. The process of my practice to me is incredibly personal. What I hope is helpful is what I learn every time I do triangle, what I learned from my journey into headstand, and the questions that I still have about wheel. That’s what inspires my practice and teaching.
Plus, yoga has lifted me out of the depths of suicidal depression, it’s been there through my deepest heartbreaks and losses, and it’s helped me gain a powerful sense of self and self-confidence. Yoga healed un-diagnosable pain in my knees and lower back and gave me back the freedom to live well in my body. I’m humbled by this practice, more humbled to teach it, and even more humbled to teach people to teach it. I don’t know what journey any of my students are on, I don’t know how they prefer to live their lives, and I sure as hell don’t know what is or is not best for them. All I know is what has helped me and given me a deeper sense of solace and peace. If I can share that, then I’m happy. That healing deeply inspires me.
But to find the true source of inspiration in yoga we have to go deeper, and I can start by saying that yoga poses don’t say very much about person except that they can do that pose. You can do a cool pose and still be a mess. You can have a visually stunning practice and still cause much suffering to yourself and others. And, the opposite is true as well. What says a lot to me about a person is that they have a good heart, are kind, flawed but learning, generous, walking their talk, loving, and humble. These are the lasting intangible qualities that take us on a challenging journey into deep vulnerability. And the journey to these qualities takes us into some of the most fundamental existential lessons of being human.
And one of the hardest of those lessons is learning that the things we expect to give us a lasting sense of satisfaction often don’t. We place our hopes, sometimes unconsciously, on an achievement, a relationship, financial gain, job, yoga pose, or life change to give us lasting peace. This never works and when we realize that, it’s a big shock. But when we really consider this idea, then we might find what actually gives us long-term happiness and ease. What do we want the achievement of the pose to give us? What is it that we think we’ll finally have once we get it? Is it confidence, peace, satisfaction, love, compassion, connection, approval, or relief? If we look to the pose or any external source to give us any of those qualities, we’ll always be disappointed. After the initial rush of reward, we find we’re stuck right back in the same place where we face a big choice- do more of the same in hopes of getting a different result, which defines insanity, or look somewhere else for what we are seeking. And the really wild part is, that “somewhere else” is inside of us. It’s in that funny little paradox that we think is missing already exists within us. The lasting source of all these qualities lies in the reorientation of our own minds and the rediscovery of our own hearts.
And the really good news is when we come to this realization and wrestle with the ramifications of it, then we can enjoy the money, relationship, achievement, or asana without putting pressure on them to do something they cannot. It doesn’t stifle our desires, if anything it enhances them! We can enjoy the outer pleasures and achievements of our lives with unabashed joy. We can desire and create with freedom and power because we have not attached our sense of self, self-worth, safety, or pride to those acquisitions. We’re at peace with them, we love them, we enjoy them, we don’t make them what they are not, and we let them go when the time is right. This is the beginning of seeing reality, the nature of how things really exist, and the path to actual happiness.
There is nothing wrong at all with advancing an asana practice. There’s nothing wrong with teaching advanced asana appropriately in a class. There’s nothing wrong with feeling immensely proud of yourself for getting a pose or sharing your journey in asana in whatever way you want. Just remember the pose is not the source of your healing and happiness. The pose cannot change your behavior and actions. The pose will not alleviate long standing suffering in your inner world. Only you have that power. Your healing is not yoga’s responsibility; it’s yours. Yoga isn’t responsible for how you act in the world; you are. Learn from yoga and put what you learn it into practice. Then you inspire just by being yourself. You don’t have to work so damned hard at it. You don’t have to amass short-term gratifications and aggrandize your ego to continuously patch over the tender holes in your heart. You permanently fill and seal those holes with yourself and you are fully and authentically who you are. That, my friends, is true inspiration.