This is a follow-on to my prior post … Personally, I find that practicing the concept of ego detachment to remove obstacles in my life requires continuous effort. Whenever I begin to compare myself to others and self doubts pop up, I counter them with this simple mantra: “Leggo my ego!”
In today’s highly competitive, image-conscious world, it is only human nature that we seek to hide ourselves behind the ego mask. However, I find that putting this ego detachment concept into practice and taking off the mask now and then gets a little bit easier with each attempt. The more I work at it, the more I find myself becoming open to exploring new possibilities and enjoying more of the rewards life has to offer, such as through practicing and teaching yoga.
Before I stepped a toe onto the yoga mat back in 2008, I was just entering into my 40s and had blossomed into a very ample size. After nearly two decades of sitting at a computer for hours on end working as a marketing communications consultant and freelance writer and editor, I had managed to gradually turn my previously athletic and fit self into a doughy, stressed and tired blob. And after getting bored, frustrated and never managing to stick with trendy diet and exercise programs for more than a few months or weeks, I knew I had to try something different that could keep me engaged for the long-term. Enter the idea of yoga.
Self acceptance first and foremost
Although it is an ancient practice, the concept of yoga was relatively new and foreign to me. I’d seen it practiced on TV in my youth and heard it could really help to release stress and improve one’s overall health and life balance. The idea was both intriguing and intimidating. Many, if not most, of the current day yogis I had seen trotting off to studios with mats in tow appeared to be young, lean, fit and strong. But thankfully, something suddenly came over me and lifted up the mask of my ego just enough for me to consider the possibility of trying yoga. Looking back, I guess it must have been a bit of that so-called inner wisdom shining through that we all supposedly have and that comes about naturally with time for I was not yet aware of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and concept of detachment.
I guess I just decided that I was important enough to not care so much about what others might think of my shape and size and give it a try. I was determined to see if yoga could be life-changing in terms of providing a means to attaining better overall health and wellness and life balance at this stage of my life. I wanted to at least give it a shot anyway. I just accepted that I would likely be the only roly-poly student in the class, not to mention maybe even among the oldest. After cobbling together an outfit that consisted of very long shorts and a roomy t-shirt to help conceal my jelly belly and thighs – a far cry from the cute little and colorful athletic wear I had seen other yoginis sporting – I went off to try out yoga.
My mat unfurled
In that first class, I quickly had an “aha,” or maybe you’d call it more of an “oh me, oh my” moment when I really discovered just how out of shape and out of touch I had become with my body and self as a whole. As the sweat dripped onto my mat, my muscles seriously burned and body literally quaked as I tried moving into and holding basic yoga poses. But guess what? Even though it was very challenging for me and I was far from graceful at it, I did it! And when it was time for final relaxation in corpse pose, or “savasana” as it’s known in yoga, I just melted blissfully into my mat. I felt completely spent from my effort and a total release of stressful tension, yet very alive at the same time — such a great and unexpected feeling.
What’s more, no one in class seemed to notice in a negative way or focus on my ample size or awkwardness moving through poses with my hearty Buddha belly and stocky legs. At least if they did, I was not aware of it at all and was not made to feel uncomfortable. Everyone was just focused on themselves on their own mat. The teacher was very supportive, kindly showing us options to modify poses and explaining that we should just be O.K. and happy with doing whatever piece of the poses we could do in that given moment and to even take a break and rest in a restorative pose as needed.
Some might say that I was just very lucky with that first class and teacher that I got on that day, because those so-called possible obstacles that had entered my mind beforehand never presented. I am very thankful for the supportive teacher and class I had on that day, as I’ve heard and read some stories from others who have had very different, off-putting first experiences. After more classes with other students and teachers, those obstacles still never materialized. In fact, I started to forget all about the other students and just focus on my own practice. Simply learning to connect my breath with the movements of my body helped me to become more present and focus inward rather than just outward.
I soon came to realize that the practice of yoga offered much more than just physical exercise benefits. When one was ready and open to receiving more, yoga could offer a holistic approach to well-being – from both the outside-in and inside-out. It was O.K. if I couldn’t perfectly perform the various yoga poses and if I struggled and stumbled through my practice. Moreover, it was O.K. if I needed to modify and use props to make poses more accessible or if I chose to never even perform certain poses in truthfully honoring my body and present capabilities. There was no focus on being good or bad at yoga … there was only yoga practice, practice and more practice.
Practice, stumble, make mistakes, learn and grow
I learned that my time on the mat was not at all about achieving physical outward perfection or striking the perfect yoga pose. Rather, I learned that yoga is about awakening to your true, best and whole self – on a physical, mental and heartfelt level. Through this holistic approach, I began to feel stronger and healthier all-around. At my next health physical exam, my doctor even noticed very positive changes in my overall well-being and asked me what I was doing differently. My yoga practice was clearly serving an instrumental role in enabling positive change not only from the outside-in but from the inside-out. I began to feel inspired to in turn share the gift of yoga with others.
I practice yoga today simply because it offers me the opportunity to continually discover a healthier, more balanced and happier way of living as my true, whole and best self, just as I am in the present moment without preconceived expectations or judgments which is wonderfully liberating. I teach yoga today with the hope of helping others to feel empowered and free to also experience that joy in their daily lives.
As I practice yoga, I am continually humbled by it. I continue to stumble, make mistakes, learn and grow not only with the help of my various teachers and colleagues but also my students — who collectively encourage and continually challenge me to discover more about how to be and live as my true and best self. I enjoy sharing my experiences and learnings along the way with the hope that it will somehow positively inspire others to begin their practice now and live more fulfilled lives.
NOW is the operative word!
There are countless yoga poses out of my league of abilities today, and I expect will remain unattainable for my lifetime. Likewise, you may never master all of the myriad yoga poses, and that’s absolutely O.K. So be it. That’s why they call it a yoga practice. You do not have to be a yoga rock star today or ever. You do not have to lose any weight or develop the perfectly toned body and pretzel-like flexibility before you can begin your practice. The only thing your yoga practice asks of you when you step onto that mat is to just practice and discover and be your authentic self, unconditionally love who you are as you are and appreciate whatever you can do in that very moment.
Moreover, it does not matter whether you practice on a mat, at the wall, sitting in a chair or lying in a bed. There are all kinds of yoga teachers and forms and levels of practice available today, so you just need to do a little research and try out some different classes to determine what best serves your needs and abilities today. Many teachers also offer affordable private lessons, if you prefer to start with that route.
Remember, true yoga is not all about the physical, which alone merely equates to exercise. Rather, yoga is about uniting the body, mind and heart — the whole self. If you are alive and able to breathe, then you can practice yoga. So come as you are now … your yoga awaits you!