Yoga of the Heart: A Journey Beyond the Mat
Yoga literally means union, the union of the spiritual and material, the cosmic dance of spirit and matter. For me it is a discipline that applies to every aspect of my life. It is a path for weaving spirit more deeply into the material, transforming and evolving my body, mind, and heart. Ramana Maharishi, an Indian yogic sage, said, “The Sun is simply bright. It does not correct anyone. Because it shines, the whole world is full of light. Transforming yourself is a means of giving light to the whole world.” I love this quote because it describes the process and results of yoga. This is the aim of my yoga practice: to transform into a brighter light. It is why I feel so deeply connected to this path. Simply put, yoga is the most powerful way I have found to confront and clear the things that prevent me from choosing love, experiencing bliss, and building my light.
After half a lifetime of unsuccessfully trying to figure it all out, fix my life, fix the system, correct my husband, correct my posture, fix my body, and do it all perfectly, Ramana Maharishi’s route sounds pretty wonderful—and a lot easier!
True yoga—physical postures being only one part of its infinite tapestry—is what the world needs. At least, it’s what the world I want to live in needs. Luckily yoga comes in many forms. While attending a yoga festival recently, I encountered a teacher from Brazil named Prem Baba. There were no postures or exercises in his class. It was a discourse woven amidst beautiful, heartfelt songs that continue to play in my heart and mind weeks later. The music and words were yoked to the fabric of my being, causing my awareness to change. He told a story about a student who had asked his teacher how to open the twelve petaled lotus at the top of his head, and his guru replied, “Why would you ask me to tell you that when you have not even opened the eight petaled lotus of your heart?”
What I heard from Prem Baba that day is that we experience shocks in life that wound our hearts and usually cause us to build walls of defense. We are abandoned, hurt, unloved, humiliated, betrayed, and misperceived. These shocks, like the thorns of a rose, can puncture our hearts and cause us to build up scars and defenses. Unless we remove this defensive armor, we cannot open our hearts.
Our spiritual success and growth depend on us opening our hearts, becoming vulnerable. According to Prem Baba, that is the only way. Those of us on the spiritual path can begin to use these shocks, these punctures, as tools to break up the defenses around our hearts. I pondered these principles and, upon arriving home, applied them to my life. That experience was a deepening of my understanding of what yoga could be.
I recently completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training. The power of yoga to transform was obvious. If you were to look at pictures of our group before and after this training, it would be evident. We all changed. You could see it in our asanas, our more defined muscles, the way we held ourselves. And you could see it in our eyes—the inner fire burned brighter and there was a sparkle. When we listened to each other talk and teach, we could hear the change too. Confidence, clarity, articulation, and passion rang out.
I had never been so aware of yoga’s transformative properties than I was during this course. I have called myself a yogi or yogini more than a few times in my life, but I say it now with more experience of what it means, a deeper connection and truth. I have grown to need yoga more and use yoga more. I have experienced times of personal challenge during these last six months and they are, I feel, part of the path, somehow part of the training.
Yoga changes for me every day—it is a way of being in the world, a spirit in a human body. It has become my practice, my lens, my joy, sometimes my pain, my path, and my purpose. Yoga has evolved and changed me. I was given tremendous opportunity and imperative to reach for and rely on yoga to guide me through my challenges. I found I needed to practice yoga on and off the mat, to see each twist of life as an opportunity to use stihrim (steadfast will) to steady as in Tree Pose (Vrksasana), to hold unwavering dhrishti (focused gaze) as is necessary in Lord of the Dance Pose (Natarajasana), to open my heart and shore up my strength at the same time as I would in Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Even the thorns of the rose that Prem Baba spoke of, those shocks in life that come when we reach for the ineffable beauty of the rose, are our teachers and our yoga. They are beloved masters who have come to destroy the walls of protection we have built around our hearts, because the most precious beauty of union, the most cherished experiences cannot be seen or felt through those walls. Yoga is our journey home to our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and to the glorious magic of our spirit.