Why did you first come to your yoga mat? Think back to whatever or whomever motivated you to attend your first yoga class. Ever.
Has the reason changed?
When I ask my yoga students this, I see nods and knowing smiles all around the room. Why we first came to our yoga mat and why we continue to show up often shifts.
It’s not that we no longer need the initial reason why; it’s that the practice of yoga opens up many more “whys” than we knew existed.
From physical healing to less stress to spiritual connection — why you show up is exactly what you work with. This reason is valid and worthy of attention, no matter what it is, because it sparks the desire that motivates you to practice.
In Sanskrit, “desire” is kama, and Hinduism considers it one of the four essentials of a well-intentioned life. Can you imagine that? That one of the goals of being human is to desire, to wish and to long? I don’t know about you, but this is the exact opposite of what I was taught in Catholic grade school.
Desire, of course, can be sexual (hello, Kama Sutra), but the kind I’m talking about here is much less hands-on. It’s the cosmic tug of your heart to discover what brings you pleasure so that you can more fully become who you were meant to be.
To put it another way, kama is an attitude of happiness.
It’s the deliberate choice to harmonize your life with the things that you most love, so that others can find love through your actions.
Here’s a tangible example: A piano teacher who devotes her life to teaching little kids the instrument, and the young student who becomes a celebrated concert pianist and credits it all to her first piano teacher.
The key to no-guilt longings: Your wish or desire for your life will help others discover theirs. By doing and seeking out what brings you pleasure, you give that away to others. That connection is none other than the yoga of desire — true union of path, purpose and pleasure.
It’s why you’ll never be happy doing something that doesn’t stir your soul.
It’s why, when your asana practice becomes reason-less, you feel the same grogginess and perhaps think of abandoning yoga entirely.
I used to think of my mat as an escape. As long as I was on it, it was a depression- and anxiety-free zone. After class, as I fetched my shoes and keys, the worries rushed in like an obnoxious kid, “Didya miss me? Huh? Didya didya?”
You can leave everything behind when you step on your mat. But if that’s your choice, you won’t move forward.
To desire is a choice. And your desires may change as you succeed in attaining them, but it’s the reason behind the desires — your Great Big Why — that can keep you engaged off and on the mat, always pointing you in a well-intentioned direction.
So don’t leave your reason off the mat. Don’t seek space away from the worries that may await the moment you slip your shoes back on. The very first time you came to your mat you didn’t know what would happen next. You had no idea what desires would soon be stirred.
But wasn’t what happened next amazing?
Asana Practice: Cat Pose, Marjaryasana
Cat Pose is one of the most simplistic and yet pleasurable yoga poses for the spine. The movement doesn’t take much, yet the result is clear: a more expansive back, a supple spine and the intelligence to notice when the spine feels open or stuck. The inward gaze in Cat Pose also acknowledges our heart, that powerful seat of our desires.
Pay attention to what your mid-back does in Cat Pose. If you’re like me, dealing with scoliosis, or have a back or shoulder injury, you’ll find it more difficult to arch through certain vertebra. Create the longing to open up this section of your spine as you breathe deeply into the affected area.
- 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.
- Exhale, curl the tailbone under as you arch the spine up and take your gaze between your arms toward your knees. Focus especially on arching through the middle spine.
- Inhale 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.