“The only journey is the journey within.” ~~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Those of you who have been to one of my classes know that I constantly remind you to pay attention to how your body and mind feel as you move through your poses on the mat. There’s a reason why I do this, and it’s not because I love to nag you.
When you are in a yoga class, you are all alone, even when there’s a room full of people around you. You’re all alone because the practice of yoga is meant to be for YOU only. It’s not about competition (I know I’ve mentioned this at least one or two times over the years J). It’s about figuring out who you are, both inside and out.
We’ve been talking about the niyamas these last few weeks, and this week, our focus is the fourth niyama. It’s Sanskrit name is Svadhyaya, which translates to “the study of one’s self.”
We usually start off by doing this self-study on our mats by noticing our breath, how our muscles feel in each pose, how calm our minds are. Paying attention to these things makes you aware of what you are doing, so that you’re able to stop before hurting yourself. But it also nurtures self-knowledge.
For those of you who have been practicing for some time, you’ve probably noticed the changes that yoga is making in your life off the mat. If you’re not quite to that point yet, don’t worry…it’ll come in time. Remember that yoga is a practice, a journey – not a destination.
For me, yoga has helped me to better understand the situations that cause me stress. I’ve learned to recognize the physical symptoms that tend to crop when I’m stressed, and I’ve learned a variety of ways to help myself de-stress when I notice those symptoms. For example, I tend to get very short of breath when I’m stressed. So when I notice myself doing that, I stop whatever it is I’m doing and take some deep breaths. I’ll also drop into Child’s Pose if I’m in a location where I can do that easily, or maybe I’ll move through a few restorative poses to calm myself down.
I’ve also learned what my physical limitations are, and as a result, I am much more kind to my body when I practice. For example, my body will never be able to do Lotus Pose due to a structural issue with my hips. For years, I tried and tried to achieve this pose, always walking away frustrated because I could not seem to progress at all. I ended up injuring myself during one practice, and it resulted in me having residual knee issues ever since. If I’d been listening to my body all along, I would have noticed that whenever I attempted this pose, I would hold my breath, scrunch up my face, and feel pain in my hips and knees. So why did I keep pushing it? Because I saw everyone else in the room able to do it. There goes that competition thing!
Stop and ask yourself, “Why am I here?” as you practice on your mat. You may be surprised at the answer if you truly look inside yourself for it. Once you get comfortable doing this in class, you may find yourself asking that same question in relation to your job, your personal relationships, etc. As the answers present themselves, you start to discover who you truly are. That is what self-study is all about.