Many of us who have been attracted to any healing modality found that our journey began in the moment when we said one essential word, “Enough!” This moment becomes our springboard for change and our inspiration for transformational yoga. We all may have great ideas about how other people should change, but when it comes to making adjustments in our own lives, that may only happen as we recognize that our way of doing things is just not working.
Change is hard. Often, we need to rewire our systems from the ground up, by examining coping mechanisms, revisiting the stories we tell ourselves, or recognize that our way of moving through the world just isn’t serving us. The patterns we need to change may be ones we’ve lived with for years. Even when we recognize that change is necessary for our growth, peace and joy, it is still challenging.
Fortunately, transformational yoga offers practical solutions.
Here are three ways a consistent yoga practice helps to support positive personal change:
1. Awareness. First, we have to recognize that a shift is necessary. Svadhyaya means self-study and it’s one of the Niyamas, or personal observances we undertake when we’re looking to incorporate all eight limbs of the yoga practice into our lives. Discernment, clear-seeing, or viveka and vidya, are tools we practice on the mat. We all have habits, some physical, and some psychological.
If you’re hard on yourself in general, you’ll be hard on yourself when you’re on your mat. If you tend to shy away from challenge, or moving outside your comfort zone, that will also follow you onto your mat. If you have fear of making mistakes, of not being perceived as perfect, or you tell yourself a story about why you can’t do something the minute you want to, you won’t check those habits at the door of the yoga studio. You’ll just unroll them along with your mat. If you have trouble committing, you’ll probably have trouble showing up for yourself. Essentially, your mat can be a place where you figure out what patterns or ways of thinking are holding you back, so you can start to figure out how to do things a different way.
Transformational yoga is confrontational by nature. It’s just a matter of time before you come up against a pose your body isn’t ready to do, and then you get to see whether you’re able to practice patience and compassion for yourself, or not so much. If you have a tendency to flee when things get tough, you may find you want to run to the bathroom when it’s time for inversions. The idea is to bring these habits into your awareness, so you can work toward unraveling them. Being able to determine whether you’re in a ninety-degree bend, or just think you are, is one simple way of practice viveka and vidya. Backing off when a pose is so difficult you feel pain and can no longer breathe is a way of practicing ahimsa, or non-harming. You look at what’s happening on your mat calmly, and with curiosity and breath, and you see how it relates to your life off the mat. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, so the idea is to begin to feed tendencies that serve you, and erode the ones that don’t.
2. Intention. Once we identify patterns or places where we’re getting in our own way, it helps to get clear about what we’d like to create instead. For example, if you tend to take off when things get tough, you might decide you’re going to work on non-reactivity techniques so that when you feel triggered, you have the tools to stay where you are and be in that discomfort, or simply notice that urge to run without acting on it. If you discover that you have a loud inner critic, you could decide you’re going to devote yourself to developing an inner voice that cheers you on, instead of one that tears you down. If you have a habit of pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, you might decide you’re going to practice compassion for yourself while you’re on your mat, so you can start to experience more of that in the rest of your life.
You need a vision of what it is you’re trying to develop, so that your actions can then be aligned with your intentions. This is called sankalpa, or intention-setting, and it is part of how we overcome samskaras, or “grooves” that are hampering our ability to liberate ourselves from our past, and experience joy and peace in our present.
3. Practice. Intentions are necessary but they don’t get us far if we don’t put some elbow grease behind them. This is where abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment or surrender) come into play. We want to show up with persistence and determination (tapas, “heat” or “discipline” are essential for this), but we also want to find an equal amount of ease. This is often described as the two wings of a bird. If we’re all effort, no ease, or all ease, no effort, we’re crashing into the ground or not getting off the ground. Change happens more easily and more quickly when we’re open and curious and can have a sense of humor about ourselves. This business of being human is wildly interesting, but no one would argue that it’s easy! We all have our issues, our history, our absurd ideas or choices sometimes, decisions we’d love to do over or differently, and things we’re trying to work out. The more you can open to reality as it is, and work with it, the less you suffer. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so you may as well enjoy the journey of transformational yoga!