In the modern world, we spend a lot of time focusing on our external presence. How do we interact with others? How do we engage in the world? We live in a very outward-focused society. In that outward-focus, big issues seem to matter more than the small ones. We just have to respond to the email, but it does not matter exactly what words we use. We just have to eat, but it does not matter exactly what we put in our bodies. We just have to exercise, but it does not matter what kind we choose. The outward focus is about looking like you are doing it “right,” whatever that means in the situation.
Yoga, on the other hand, is about an inward experience. Whether you are doing bikram or restorative, meditation or asana, in a class or on your own, yoga is about turning inward. At the beginning of a practice, we tend to be consumed with whether we are doing “it” right. Is this how Tree Pose is supposed to look? Is my mind wandering too much during savasana? What is the right way to sit in meditation? These questions tend to consume the minds of beginners, and they all-too-often keep people from ever starting a practice.
But if we take that first step, be it onto a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, we begin to slowly go down the path of turning inward. With this inward journey we learn to notice the big results from little changes. We begin to notice the feeling of calm that can arise from breathing into the low abdomen as opposed to into the shoulders. We begin to notice the difference in steadiness when we make subtle adjustments in our asanas. We begin to be able to ask ourselves what we need in any given moment.
Let me say that again, we begin to be able to ask ourselves what we need in any given moment. The time we spend engaged in our practice is time spent learning. Our bodies learn to move subtly, our breath learns to calm, and our mind learns to focus. Looking outside for what we need becomes less important as we begin to trust our internal awareness.
So what, you ask? Why does it matter to my life if I know that I can be steadier in tree pose if I keep the lifted foot pushing into the standing leg? How will it affect my life to know that I put more weight on my right foot generally than my left foot? Because as we learn to notice, we learn to adjust. We learn to play with subtleties until we find what works best in a situation. Perhaps most importantly, we learn to trust ourselves and our instincts.
Off the mat, we learn to notice the subtleties in our lives and our interactions with others. Instead of sending off the email that continues the downward spiral, we might instead choose our words more carefully. We can learn to trust ourselves in the outside world, learn to trust our instincts when we interact with others, and learn to make the slight adjustments in our lives that lead to big change.
What are these slight adjustments? Perhaps we will recognize when we need a bit more sleep, when we need to get away from the computer for five minutes, or when we need to stop and have a chat with a friend. This inward journey starts when we consciously choose to take time to look inside and recognize that our lives are not completely external. The paradox, of course, is that the more we focus on the inward journey, the more we can take its teachings into our external lives.
Yoga is that opportunity to go inside. It is the opportunity to stop and reflect, to learn to understand our instincts, and the opportunity to make small adjustments to our lives that have the greatest impact on who we are. It is the opportunity to do what is right for us on the inside, not what society tells us is "right."
What small change have you made that has had the greatest effect on your life?
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved