In the ten-plus years I have been practicing yoga, no two times have been alike. I unroll my mat, step onto it, and it seems to magically transform into a repository for experiencing the full spectrum of human thoughts and emotions. If I could take it to the street and shake it out in the afternoon sun, memories would uncoil into the sky like plumes of smoke, reaching for the moon. Dreams would fly up the street and rapidly wrap around the earth. Tears would accumulate in deep, rippling pools, while thoughts, like tiny specks of dust, would create a shimmering, thick haze. In the scheme of “yoga asana is a metaphor for life,” no stone has been left unturned. This is especially true since I started practicing the independent style of Ashtanga yoga eight years ago, the framework of which has provided me with countless opportunities to observe myself in action.
Tonight, standing at the top of my mat, I wondered–for the millionth time–why I continually return to this practice. It finally dawned on me that by moving my body through the poses, I am not only cultivating strength and flexibility physically, but I am creating a firm, steady foundation from which to observe, contain, and release the aforementioned smattering of human experiences that pass through me on a daily basis. Moving through yoga postures (and through life) from this basis of strength helps me to witness without reacting, to observe without controlling. And in the moments when I feel like I don’t have the strength or steadiness to maintain a pose on the mat, or an emotion off the mat, it’s an opportunity for compassion and patience, for gentleness and precision.
Physical yoga practice, or asana, is just one component of this complex system of philosophy, and each of the eight limbs of yoga is integral to the full experience. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to come to the mat and remain a witness to it all. May the learning continue to ripple in all directions.