One of my favourite bedtime books is Meditations on the Mat, by Rolf Gates. It was gifted to me by Sarah last year. This passage really spoke to me recently, as I’ve been struggling to find a consistent yoga practice over the past couple of months. I’m coming back to it already, as the sun comes out more often and the weather is warming up.
Each step forward in her practice is a step inward. To practice yoga is to draw ever closer to the truth. As we learn to relax into our truth, moment by moment, breath by breath, posture by posture, the need for pretense starts to fall away. We find out we are shedding the layers of armor we’ve created to protect the false self we present to the world. But as the armor falls away, we are confronted by the old fears that create the armor in the first place and that has held it in position for so long.
Chances are we will be unaware of the moment when we shed a layer of armor. We may simply wake up one day to find that an old fear has reared its head, or that it seems harder to get to our mat, and harder still to attend to the other aspects of our practice. Suddenly, chocolate chip cookies and Haagen-Dazs are on the menu, gossip fills an hour of the day, and an unhealthy relationship appears more attractive. At such times it’s important to understand that a resurgence of old behavior often accompanies growth, that such regressions are, in fact, signs that we are drawing near to the truth. We see this in the stories of Jesus and the Buddha. Both men were beset by their demons even as they moved unerringly towards their Dharma. And both were able to meet their challenges and move on. Their lives are universal examples of the human potential for growth. We all share this potential, and we awaken it each time we practice. Confronting the fears we encounter along the way is an aspect of the practice itself. As a darkness of our fears is dispelled, we become like the angel in Paulo Coelho’s tale. Our eyes are filled with the light of love, the love that is ever-present beneath all the temporal, earthly loves.
When we do feel lost or uncertain drifting away from our practice, blocked from our own truth, it helps to remember that darkness and confusion, too, are part of the path. The hero’s journey is a journey inward. Yoga is not a work out, it is a work in. In the Tao Te Ching, we read that the only real movement is return. And this is the point of spiritual practice: to make us teachable, to open our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know, and be who we already are.