I have been touched by some expressions of care from readers following some recent posts where I’ve been confronting the fact that practice isn’t always an uplifting experience and can be downright troubling. Blogging about personal experiences — like yoga itself — is a bit of a leap of faith. But if I’m finding something tough, chances are I’m not alone. So I try to be honest, hoping that it might offer something both to myself in figuring out where I am and also to others whose experiences might be similar.
My teacher often talks about shedding layers in our practice. The metaphor works quite well for me — though sometimes if feels less like the gradual sloughing off of accreted tensions or social conventions etc that he describes and more like a sudden ripping off of an adhesive bandage. Too much sensitive skin suddenly exposed to the light. It’s as though my viscera are laid bare in each practice. The very heart of me now revealed in all its human fragility and raw beauty.
How do I make sense of this experience in yogic terms? That might perhaps be reassuring, to know this too is part of the path. But I don’t know enough to position it or frame it in a wider context. All I find is a tension between my understanding of yoga as (ideally?) a transcendent devotional practice and the very personal therapeutic use that yoga often seems to be put to in our modern world.
Maybe one moves through one to the other? After all, yoga practice commonly starts small, with an (exclusive?) emphasis on asana practice — developing postures, gaining physical strength and flexibility, all motivated by the desire to look good/right on the outside.
The inner work usually comes later, if at all.
Then perhaps in the inner work also there’s a trajectory where self-healing must be the beginning before the practice expands to encompass any broader compassion or any higher purpose.
And of course it’s not really so linear. There’s a constant reframing, rebalancing of self in relation to others, and self in relation to Self, one’s experience of individual ego in the context of some broader sense of commonality or universal spirit (whatever words one chooses to express the notions of Isvara, Brahman etc).
Whenever I am lost and look to my teachers for help, the message is always one of patience and compassion. Change happens gradually, some things can’t be rushed. And like the band-aid simile, there’s something good about my difficult experiences, a sense that the wounds will heal better when exposed to the open air, even if they feel vulnerable and raw at the time.
Current mantra for myself: śanaiḥ śanaiḥ शनैः शनैः
My understanding of this word is that it connotes both compassion and patience, it’s translated as ‘gently gently, or ‘slowly slowly’. It fits.
Maybe I should get a tattoo? Not! 🙂