Sometimes studying, practicing, and engaging in yoga feels like being insatiably thirsty and being offered a fire hose. I want more. I need more. The water comes out so fast, though. And there is so much of it. All I want is to dance in the deluge without feeling the need to grab a paddle and row for safety. I have to remind myself to slow down and appreciate the little nuggets of learning as they arrive, sometimes unbeckoned, for me to explore. I think this is why I am also convinced that more lifetimes follow this one. We just can’t be “done” when we cast off this mortal coil; the spirit endures, and the soul remains. Ever present, ever transforming, ever opening.
All of this to say that I have been pursuing a deeper dive of Patanjali’s yoga sutras lately in an attempt to stitch together the fabric of my physical practice with the underpinning of yoga philosophy. When I first started my practice in 2011, it was purely physical (much like any new relationship, really). It was a bridge between anxiety and depression and health and wellness. This bridge still exists; I still make trips over it. However, I am now building new bridges to new places to discover a beautiful world that is not inherently new, but new to me.
Sutra comes from the same root as the medical term, suture. It means “to connect or hold together.” Patanjali’s yoga sutras are, to put it simply, like a practical textbook to help guide seekers on their spiritual journey of remembering the union of the soul, body, spirit, and mind. It is a practice because we, as ever-learning humans, often forget to remember, and then we remember again, and thus we come back to our Selves. When we practice, we start to shine brighter. Right now, perhaps more than ever, the world desperately needs our light. Our practice, though personal, does not embody selfishness. Instead, it makes us better versions of ourselves so that we can move beyond the mat and inspire, hopefully, others to be better versions of themselves. It all comes back to consciousness.
In Sutra 1.12, Patanjali reminds seekers that “consciousness is elevated by devoted practice and remembering the Self.”
Our “Selves” relate to our deeper essence, truer nature, authentic soul, and divine spark. Our atman is our higher self; it is who we are beyond the layers of our physical being, our material world, our daily experience. It is the expanding universe within; the light that shines through the darkness of this human existence. It is our capacity for knowing, being, loving, transforming. The real conundrum here, though, is that we cannot fully appreciate the atman–our Self–without practicing consciousness.
And who wants to be 100% conscious 100% of the time in our current world? We’re surrounded by trouble, ache, and stress. We’re pushed, pulled, shamed, and forced a thousand different directions by voices that are not our own..voices that are dangerous, self-seeking, and full of dis-ease.
Thus, our personal journey becomes even more important than we realize because, without it, our own voice is stifled, left to shrink under the weight of the world and its opinions.
So how do we know when we’re out of practice? How do we know when we’ve lost elevation and forgotten our Self?
My husband was driving my car while I tinkered on a yoga playlist in the passenger seat. He asked whether I had noticed that my car pulls to the right a little bit. I shrugged because, well, I had, but hadn’t really considered it to be a big deal. I had just had my car realigned six months ago and got new tires at the same time. I discounted the pulling as uneven roads, a little curve, or some other seemingly innocuous thing. This is a tendency of mine, a default I am working on: to see, or even feel, something as “wrong,” but to discount it as a one-off, or a moment that is incongruent with, but not representative of, the whole. I thought nothing of it for a couple of days.
And then it hit me. I’ve been out of alignment lately, too. After a month of travel, a disruption in my teaching schedule, and a few humbling experiences paired with a little bit of summer laziness, I forgot to remember. I was out of practice: I was not practicing awareness, mindfulness, physically, or even emotionally. I bottled up some feelings, wrote off the rest, and then just forgot my Self and therefore discounted not only all of its needs, but its deeper relationship to me and those with whom I am in relationship, too.
And so, like my car, I have been out of alignment. And it’s time to get back into it. And so, the practice begins again. The remembering begins again. And so does the gratitude for all of the opportunity to (re)discover what I lost. And, thankfully, the personal realignment comes at a far cheaper cost than that of the car.
Get elevated. (Re)align with you in a way that is healing, restorative, and inspiring. Surround yourself with the comfort of Self and listen for the voice within. You’ll be amazed at what happens.