Sometimes it feels like other people are the source of our problems. If we weren’t confronted with others’ expectations of us, we could placidly rest in the cozy cocoons of ourselves and not have to share our food.
And be lonely. Unrelentingly lonely.
Even if you’re content with aloneness, there comes a time when it’s too much. Traveling toward version 2.0 of yourself is stalled unless you have someone else to hold up a mirror.
But let’s say you invite someone or several people in, and the reflection of yourself with each person isn’t who you’d like to be. Or it’s only a small part of who you are. Or, worse, you feel forced into a certain version of yourself whenever you’re with them.
For the majority of my adolescence and early 20s, I was this chameleon. With some people, I became super witty and funny. With others, just super critical. I know this is all part of growing up — finding out who you really are — but these shadows of ourselves stick around long after we change groups of friends.
These identities persist in our brain until proven false. Here’s a big one that I just learned last year: Me being critical and wanting to control other people’s actions around mealtime? That was my misophonia talking, my aversion to certain chewing noises because they create anxiety and anger in my body.
What are some of the illusions you still hold true about yourself because of how you’ve treated others in the past?
Being your true self doesn’t come with a definitive bible or a comprehensive 101 text. The same is true for yoga — the tradition and science of yoga has many lineages and schools.
There is no foolproof path to your divinity. Just practice.
This is why when you come to your mat, or you meditate or you start to take a deeper dive into living your yoga, you must be sure you’re practicing your yoga — not someone else’s.
The way to your own heart is not through that of another.
When you’re practicing someone else’s yoga, you strive to fit your body into poses that don’t make sense for you. You guilt yourself into going to asana class. You don’t question if the things you’re learning resonate — you just learn them because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Even in your yoga journey, the very practice of coming home to yourself, you can be led astray. But there’s a remedy for this, and it’s the one thing yoga will help you to cultivate better than anything else: awareness.
Being aware of what you think and who is doing the thinking can be truly mind-blowing. When you get into that state with yourself, of truly disassociating your ego from your spirit, you won’t want to leave. But you’ll be forced to, because you do not live in a cave and even if you did, your mind will do everything in its power to distract you.
But you are not your mind. When you can get beyond your mind’s make-believe, you can tune into your heart — that sensitive awareness within that is intuitively calm. As Cynthia Bourgeault says in The Wisdom Way of Knowing:
“As the heart becomes undivided, a still and accurately reflecting mirror, it begins to be able to see and swim in the deeper waters of the divine coming into form. And there, where our true heart lies, we find the true verve, power and meaning of our lives.”
So here’s something tangible to do the next time you find yourself unaware. Form Chin Mudra, which is Sanskrit for “consciousness seal.” Press the index finger into connection with the thumb, forming an everlasting circle that symbolizes the connection of consciousness from individual self to Supreme.
Make this mudra right now with your right hand. Look at it. Remember that this is your life and your circle, and you can choose who you invite in. You can choose to let go of the illusions you have of yourself — those layers of your ego that say you’re this or that — and instead go back to basics.
The very basic notion that you are alive, that you are part of it all, and that you have a choice to come back, always, to your ever-present inner peace.
And rest there. Unrelentingly happy.
Asana Practice: Cow Pose, Bitilasana
In relatively unchallenging yoga poses, you can cultivate a deeper sense of awareness for how the body talks to itself and you.
For example, in Cow Pose, where is your connection to the mat? Which vertebra easily move and which are harder to access? What is your breath doing while you move? This foundational pose of any Vinyasa or Hatha yoga practice can teach you a lot about movement if you choose to be aware.
- Come to a tabletop position, stacking hands under shoulders and knees below hips. Curl the toes underneath behind you (optional). Spread the fingers wide and turn the insides of the elbows to face one another. Come to a neutral spine and gaze at the floor.
- Inhale, lift the chest and the sit bones up and sink the abdomen toward the ground. Allow the shoulder blades to descend toward the hips and keep the navel lengthening up toward your spine. Allow the gaze to come up as the head lifts.
- Exhale and return back to a neutral spine. Repeat this sequence about five to 10 times, tracing with your inner awareness all the places in which your body moves (or is harder to move.) Just notice — don’t judge.