The Transformative Power of Just One Yoga Class
Atha Yoga Anusasanam—“Now the teachings of Yoga begin.” Patanjali opens with this aphorism in the Yoga Sutras. The aspirant is now ready to receive yoga instruction. It is in this moment, not the past, not the future; It is now that the journey begins.
Though the teachings were transcribed thousands of years ago, this invitation to live a deeply examined life is relevant to any person at any time. It’s what makes yoga a beloved living tradition and why it remains practical in modern day. By becoming awareness itself we see there is no separation. We are an intimate reflection of nature and universal consciousness—that which is whole and unchanging.
Sometimes the most challenging thing to do is simply show up and acknowledge what is happening in the moment, especially when we feel states of upset or discomfort. Eventually with regular practice, we can slip easily into awareness, see clearly into our being, and peel back layers to our sacred essence. It becomes apparent that peace and contentment exist as our core qualities. The teachings say that bliss is our birthright and that we simply need to remember.
The Ripple Effect
Even one yoga class has extraordinary transformative power if you are fully attentive. By having full presence at any given moment, one can arrive to acceptance, trust, and clarity. We can carry forth these attributes into daily life; to our communities and our loved ones. We become refreshed and have more to offer. Taking time and space to nourish ourselves through yoga and Ayurveda is never a selfish act. Rather, it is a way to harmonize physically, mentally, and emotionally. When we integrate this wisdom into daily life there is a ripple effect. Consistent practice literally serves all those we come in contact with. We can share this gift in the simplest ways: Allowing the impatient driver to go in front of us at a packed intersection even though we are running late. Or taking time to look the grocery store cashier in the eyes and ask her how her day is.
As a practitioner of 24 years and a teacher of 17, I have witnessed the profound effect of dedicated practice, both within myself and the students I serve. Yoga has been my anchor, a constant through the seasons of my life. Yoga inspires and informs the way I live in all aspects every day. It is my greatest treasure and I am blessed. Despite this, I am not flawless. Still I fall out of integrity and can be reactive. And I don’t always have time to roll out my mat for a formal practice of sitting, moving, and breathing, but the truth is that all of life can be practice if I am mindful. Yoga is about cultivating sensitivity and union. That is the definition of the word yoga “to yoke, to unite, to bring to balance.” I can coordinate my body and mind in any task. Washing dishes becomes meditation with conscious awareness. Yoga invites us to wake up on all levels imaginable and remain steady in any situation.
This last November, the morning after the election, I had to teach. On my car ride to the studio I listened to Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. My eyes filled with tears. My mind raced in confusion. I felt my body contract. I sensed an impending shift in our country, a loss of innocence at least in my generation. My emotional and physical responses surprised me. When I pulled up to the studio I questioned, “How do I hold space with my own cocktail of emotions?” The answer came clearly: “Breathe deeply and be here now.”
Upon arrival, I was embraced by a student who literally cried on my shoulder. Class was full that day. A heavy, uneasy silence filled the room. Truly it felt as if I had walked into a funeral hall. In my teaching, I have always remained politically neutral and unbiased. Even on this morning, I was fully aware that not everyone shares my personal opinions and that I must always honor this. Students of all belief systems come to yoga to find peace. It is always my aim to hold welcoming, inclusive space; with this intention, I started the class.
Moving Through Emotions
We began with many moments of silent sitting. It seemed we all needed a little time to transition from the morning events, settle in, and purposefully arrive to the now. I invited everyone to scan their physical bodies, connect to the ground beneath them, and visualize a branchlike root system growing vast and expansive into the earth’s core. As I said these words, I too began to feel my own link to the element of earth. That which is nourishing and wise. That which sustains life and provides stability. I felt the density of my own bones, my muscle tissue, and skin. As I felt my sitting bones sink down low, I knew I was deeply supported. My spine rose taller. I was comfortably seated between the physical and the ethereal.
I encouraged my students to breathe deeply into their bodies, to arrive with their breath to this moment and perceive whatever was moving through them, then bring attention to their emotions with compassion. I too noticed the air qualities within. That which is light, clear, subtle, and expansive, that which animates me and moves my life force, my prana. I felt vibrant energy ride up and down my spine, unlocking the channels within. There was freedom for my breath to flow, like water releasing stagnation and circulating throughout my being.
I reminded them that the mind fluctuates and jumps repeatedly. It processes the past and then anticipates the future; but if we connect to breath, just the simplicity of the inhale and exhale, we can be present in this moment and find our own tranquility.
As everyone’s breath deepened around me, my own shoulders dropped, I felt my abdomen rise and fall. My mind began to settle. There was a palpable shift of energy in the room. We slowly began to move through the asanas and I observed students closing their eyes and embodying the postures. As they moved through Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) and warrior sequences, I asked them to connect with their core body for strength, endurance, and protection—the inner fire that exists within us all. This is our will and determination. It is that which stimulates, transforms, and ignites passion. I experienced my own fiery center, my unwavering commitment to this path of refining myself, my own resilience and perseverance. In witnessing my students’ graceful movements, I felt deeply inspired and a renewed dedication to operate from a heart centered place. I believe that is what the world truly needs. It is certain that what I have the most control over is myself. I can choose to contract or move forward with courage. This is really how I can be the change I wish to see. I must begin with myself, then offer what I can to all those I meet along the way. I feel a sense of duty in sharing kindness, joy, and hope.
Let Your Practice Be Your Refuge
In these beautiful moments of practice, everything inevitably dropped away. As a collective, we experienced yoga as refuge, a time of healing and renewal. Practice came full circle and we ended with quiet sitting. I sensed the silence as light and bright. I invited the students to feel into their body, mind, and heart. To notice the quality of their breath and the effects of their practice; how they feel in this moment as opposed to how they felt when they first walked into the studio—to witness themselves now.
It never ceases to amaze me how yoga works. I find it remarkable that in such a relatively short amount of time, a complete metamorphosis takes place. It is important to approach practice with a certain level of discipline. The practice of now is essential. Patanjali expresses more in Sutra number one: That because the student is sincerely prepared, something very special will take place. These teachings are potent. The Yoga Sutras are a guidebook to life, a pursuit of self-realization, a methodology in becoming intimate with ourselves. Ultimately, we experience spiritual liberation while living in the body. There are times I have stated that Yoga has saved my life. I believe this wholeheartedly. I reflect on the first sutra routinely. This is how I allow myself to be revealed and instantaneously recognize the divine spark in all of creation. This is the practice of present moment awareness. Atha Yoga Anusasanam: We are asked to lovingly witness ourselves now.