feb15_adventuresHeroes and Villains.

Ingénues and Femme Fatales.

Black and White.

These are the sweeping archetypes painted by many classic Hollywood films. From Spaghetti Westerns, where valiant, platinum-clad cowboys face snarling, menacing nemeses to Film Noir, where courageous detectives in trench coats righteously rescue damsels from evil men in black, characters are often drawn in broad strokes as completely good or completely evil.

What we come to realize through our practice of the eight limbs of yoga is that in real life, we are far more complex; all of us are painted with both darkness and lightness. It is only the existence of the former that allows for awareness of the latter and within each of us, we find the stark contrast of light and dark exists within each of us.

When we practice the sixth limb dharana (concentration and cultivation of inner perceptual awareness), we drop deep into self-examination and introspection. In doing so, we are able to experience our own duality, which is one of the foundational concepts of the Tao.  In this ancient Eastern text, Lao Tzu reminds us that we are made of paradoxes (the yin and the yang, the masculine and the feminine).

We are many shades of grey. By embracing this, we realize we can live a life joined by the idea of “and” rather than a life of “or.” We are both human and divine. Perfect in our very being, and flawed in our behaviors.

We practice Niyama (personal observances) and Asana (physical body postures) to strengthen our internal and external human side, while also striving toward the eighth limb Samadhi (a union with the divine).

As we continue our practice of yoga, we can embrace our own contrasts and begin to love all the aspects of ourselves. Though Hollywood is credited with telling the greatest love stories of our time, perhaps the greatest of all is self loveachieved by the practiced ability to embrace ALL that we are.

Watch Elise Joan online on her fitness site that lets you build and save your own yoga and workout playlists from 10 minutes to two hours: elisejoanfitness.com

Patricia Peña is a Los Angeles-based artist and photographer: http://www.pena-photo.portfoliobox.net