When thinking about the yoga path or our spiritual path. The path is not really a path at all, that would imply a destination. As soon as we put a destination on the path we don’t focus on the journey. When we are focused on the journey, we are really experiencing the now moments and the experiences of growth, self transformation that occurs.
The path is really a practice. A practice of applying what you learned, the concepts you have been exposed too to help you on your journey. With practice comes many lessons learned about self. With non practice and realizing you are not practicing also comes different lessons, perhaps on what blocks you from practicing. More than likely it will be your own thoughts and judgments coming from fear or outside influences.
I have seen people, myself included, who are very knowledgeable of metaphysical, and spiritual concepts, texts, etc teach others about these concepts but struggle with applying these concepts to their own life, because they have mental or emotional blocks that are preventing their practice. In the yoga culture a guru would help a student to see these roadblocks, help to break down the veil of illusion brought upon by sense gratification, material gain, identification of the self as the physical body, actions, thoughts that create lopsided perceptions and false beliefs. If a guru has not been found to experience this with, we can look around in the mirrors other people are holding, and observe the self looking in those mirrors and if we are reacting to the reflection with Love or not.
As a coach, yoga teacher/student, I often have an ah-ha moment of my own physical and emotional blocks from observing people in my classes, my clients, or people close to me and my reactions to their traits. I may help lead others in the direction of self realization during practice, but we are all teachers to eachother, and mirrors for eachother and can learn so much about ourselves by just observing.
Most of the roadblocks I see people encounter with practicing yoga is within the mind. People have limiting and false beliefs about practicing yoga and what yoga really is, even before their first class. Even with physical conditions or illnesses there are underlying mental and emotional blocks and false beliefs. After breaking those false beliefs, fears, and mental blocks they realize yoga is much more than an exercise and they develop a practice that transforms their life. They will soon find those physical limitations or illnesses are not limitations at all and may even begin to heal them the more they practice.
When I have people comes to class who are brand new to yoga I will make sure I say things like; “Yoga is not a competition activity, every-ones body is different and every-ones practice is different. Listen to your own body and if you feel any discomfort pull back, modify or simply come out of the pose and rest. Rest when you need to, everything is optional, this is your practice. Accept on where you are at in the pose without condemning yourself or judging yourself. Just accept.” Reminding people of this creates ease and enjoyment in their posture practice and they can let go of the mind a little more and surrender and bring in more of the spiritual aspect of yoga and connection with themselves.
Even people who have been practicing yoga for a long period of time have mental and emotional blocks to their practice. With posture practice I often see people comparing their current practice to their practice in the past instead of being present and accepting on where they are at currently and listening. When we accept on where we are at in our physical practice we can let go and surrender in all areas in our life much easier. Everything that is happening is happening for a reason, lessons to learn. Once we surrender to that and have let go, it is easier to see the reason and lessons in everything that happens in our life and gratitude and love shine from within.
After taking a fall down the stairs, my posture practice changed dramatically and so did my approach to teaching. I went from practicing an active posture class such as Asthanga or Vinyasa and Sivananda to a more gentle and restorative class. My teaching style became more of a mixture of different styles and traditions and was gentle enough for beginners as well as people who have been practicing awhile bringing more of a spiritual aspect to the class. I also learned many other limiting false beliefs and mental and emotional blocks that I held in my life that may have even caused the fall in the first place. I am very grateful for falling down those stairs because without that experience and injuries I would not be where I am today in my practice and self development. I am also very grateful that I am almost fully recovered from that fall, physically and emotionally.
I also see people who have been practicing a long time comparing their practice to other peoples practice bringing more of a competitive energy to their practice which just brings on more blocks, illusion, false beliefs and ego. Yoga is NOT a competition activity. Bringing a competitive attitude to yoga practice can take that person in the opposite direction of the true meaning and goal of yoga. It can lead to inflation of the ego and increased identification with the body not realizing that it is just an illusion and not who we really are. The goal of yoga is to develop a relationship and connection with our true nature, enlightenment or becoming one with the light, liberation of the barriers that prevent our true nature from shining. Those barriers are often called; the veil or mya or ego which is the exterior identification of the self, such as the physical body, actions, sense gratification, material gain, and thoughts that create lopsided perceptions and false beliefs. Sometimes practicing with others in a room with mirrors can bring on a competitive feeling to your practice. Observing yourself when it does occur and breaking through that barrier by bring a little ease to your practice, going more within and maybe practicing in a space without mirrors. Then we can clearly see the invisible mirrors others are holding and our reflection in them.
The following are excerpts from “Meditations from the Mat” by yoga teacher and recovering addict Rolf Gates that I sometimes read in class. His words beautifully describe some of the roadblocks people encounter with yoga practice as well as our spiritual and life practice.
Working with beginners affords me the opportunity to observe just what it is we bring to our mats. Despite wide age, gender, socioeconomic, cultural, physical differences, we all carry some of the same baggage. Whether you are a dancer, a housewife, a grad student, retired police officer or an aerobics dropout, you will not doubt confront the same roadblocks to learning that I see students encounter every day; pride and fear.
If you are new to yoga, chances are you are wrestling not only with the postures but also the judgments you pronounce on your efforts. But if you can make commitment to be a little easier on yourself, I am certain you will enjoy your practice more. If not you may soon find yourself making all sorts of excuses to avoid practicing altogether, it will become too painful.
When we opt out of experiences that challenge us, its usually because of our pride is in the way. And pride is really another word for Fear, the fear of not being good enough. Marlon Brando delivers this truth in Apocalyse Now “ It is our Judgment that defeats us”. We become our own executioners when we sit in judgment of our efforts. Only when we act without judgment can we truly flourish in our lives.
Yoga means becoming one. As long as we stand apart in judgment we sabotage the opportunity for connection and integration that is yoga. So I encourage you: get into that canoe and ride with the river. Commit and don’t look back. Before our bodies can open they must first let go; clinched and guarded muscles must relax but the mind must let go first.
By choosing to practice yoga, we are saying that our spiritual growth is important to us. We are making it a priority. Our practice is a shelter we build for our spiritual selves. It is the work that we do to safeguard and support the possibility of spiritual growth. The winds of life constantly wear away at this shelter, but if we stick to our tools, the shelter will hold.
“If one knows what the particular disease is there is the possibility of curing it. To know the particular limitation, bondage or hindrance of the mind, and to understand it, one must not condemn it, one must not say it is right or wrong. One must observe it without an opinion, a prejudice about it, which is extraordinarily difficult because we are brought up to condemn.” J Krishnamurti
“Try to do everything in the world with a mind that lets go. If you let go a little you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.” Acjaam Chah