A keen skill we begin to cultivate when practicing Yoga consistently is the ability to listen to what we really need. When we begin, most of us will approach the practice with the mentality of “I’m going to do my best,” and that usually means pushing ourselves well past an edge in an attempt to “keep up” with the rest of the class. We end up trying excessively hard, not hearing the teacher’s sincere guidance to listen to our bodies, to find a happy medium for us, to not compare or compete with others.
We find ourselves over-exerting, hyper stretching, and ultimately exhausting ourselves over a practice that’s meant to make us feel good, to help us reset and start anew. We mistakenly feel like we aren’t “good” at Yoga, when there is absolutely no such thing. Yoga provides a unique map showing us where we are and the endless options for where we can go. The growth and the path is entirely up to us, but we must first drop expectations or unfair standards, and instead relax into the journey, let the lessons unfold as we do.
I felt similar pressure to be adept in the practice when I first started. Coming from 15 years in athletics, a few years in gymnastics, and years of high standards in academics, I was seeking something to fill the void where my exercise regime used to be. I wanted to be “good” at Yoga too, having no clue what lessons were about to be bestowed upon my thick skull. A common occurrence, I’ve found, we walk into a studio for one reason, we stay for another. I kept going back because Yoga was the only physical activity, or any activity for that matter, that I’d ever entered for the sole purpose of feeling better.
Who I was didn’t matter, how flexible or strong I was had no barring on the outcome in class, for others or myself. The dozens of fellow students I breathed and moved with during those years each had their own reasons for being there, and none of them mattered. It wasn’t my business. My focus and execution of certain challenges only served me, it had no influence on the others, there wasn’t a team, there was no winning or losing. We’d already won, we were there.
When I started delving deeper, noticing how the breath affected my mood and energy off the mat, how my body felt slightly different each practice, and how Yoga softly guided me out of my mind and into the moment, the mirror reflecting my relationship with myself only grew clearer. I began to see why the decisions in my past caused pain, why my conditioned thought patterns were keeping me glued to my place, and that it was within my power, it was my responsibility to pull myself out of the past and move confidently into the future.
So how does this translate into knowing what we need? It’s such a gradual process that requires diligence and patience. These lessons unfold not by force, but rather organically, in due time, at precisely the moment we need them. The wisdom I gleaned through Yoga started broadly, with big picture advice focusing on being present, dropping comparison, recognizing humans are here to collaborate, not compete. I recognized how much I’d built my sense of self based on how I measured up against others: by striking a batter out in softball, winning a match in tennis, achieving high marks in school, etc.
What Yoga helped reveal, and keeps revealing, is how we’re all the same. We all struggle with confidence, sadness, confusion. We all endure suffering, tragedy, heartache. And we’re all capable of experiencing joy, passion, and exhilaration. Yoga helps you release those feelings of separateness, of inadequacy, of loneliness. And deeper than that, it helps us surrender into those very human sensations. We cannot escape loss, failure, or pain. We can only get better in absorbing and learning from it.
So the practice brings more acceptance, of ourselves, our fellow human beings, and of the inevitable highs and lows we’re bound to experience in this lifetime. We learn over and over that we cannot change the past, reliving it only causes more pain and keeps us from living in real life, choosing to retell the same stories in our heads instead. So long as we’ve learned, we no longer need those harmful thoughts and memories. We’re better served in releasing them.
These pains from the past get stored deep within the muscle tissue, causing tension and discomfort. The hips are the storehouse for much of this pain, existing as somewhat of an emotional basement, a place we throw away memories we’d prefer to forget, but they’re always there. While undergoing minutes in what can be an uncomfortable hip opener, like pigeon, frog, or bound angle, we feel the pangs of resistance as our bodies cling tight to the old.
What we need is to let go, allow the emotions and challenges to reveal themselves, rising to the surface so we can see them for what they are, and only then can we truly release them for good. In addition to acceptance, to all that was and all that we are, we need surrender. We need to yield into harsh times and submit into pleasure just the same.
As we begin to build strength and flexibility, we get to know the subtle nuances in our bodies and how to apply the appropriate amount of challenge and/or modifications to find balance in our practice. No longer feeling the need to please the teacher, impress our fellow students, or live up to some unfair standard within our minds, we open to what we truly need in that moment.
Knowing what we need here requires a depth and intelligence of ourselves that can only be honed through practice. Yoga provides a safe and open framework for each us to grow at our own pace. I thoroughly enjoy a challenging asana practice, pouring sweat onto the floor and leaving lighter than when I came in. But where I’ve really fallen in love is with Restorative Yoga. That’s the remedy for almost any challenge I’m enduring, be it in body, mind or heart.
If I’m sore, achey, lethargic, under the weather, Restorative does the trick. If I’m anxious, sad, stressed, overwhelmed, Restorative saves the day. If I’m happy, content, settled, grateful, Restorative only adds to that bliss.
We need a combination of strength and softness, power and presence, levity and lightness; and paying attention to our needs, listening from the inside out, always points us in the right direction. We may be able to rock a handstand and perform a million chaturangas, but that’s not always what we need.
At a pivotal point in the practice, Yoga is no longer about what we can do, it’s simply what we need in that very moment. We don’t need to push, we only need to respond. It’s not a performance, it’s a practice. What matters is how we feel, not how we look. Yoga is here to serve us in whatever capacity we need today. It is up to us whether we listen and take the care we need and deserve.
This choice lies within us all. And it’s an individual’s call to implement what they need on any given day. There is a quiet intelligence within all of us that our practice helps to reveal. Some would call this our intuition, our soul, our consciousness. The important thing to recognize is this is precisely the voice we tune into to give ourselves exactly what we need.
We should feel better after we practice. We’ve cleansed and released the old, opened ourselves to receiving the new. This practice is an ongoing gift, the deeper and more consistently we practice, the better our lives become.
8 days into my current Sadhana, I’m feeling clearer and more decisive. I feel more in tune with what I need and excited to be implementing these subtle changes into my daily habits. I feel even more connected in my relationships since taking a step back from social media and I look forward to re-evaluating my approach to the digital sphere once this 40 day personal practice is complete.
If you have any questions about Yoga, be it with philosophy, insight, poses, building strength, flexibility and balance, or simply how Yoga can improve your life off the mat, please feel warmly welcomed to ask away via firstname.lastname@example.org