The Winding Road of Yoga
I like when things go according to plan. We all do. No one likes when your best plans go haywire, when flights get cancelled, when it rains on a day you planned for the beach or when nothing seems to work. It’s even more frustrating when this happens in your yoga practice.
You might not realize it, but somewhere in your mind you have a kind of plan for how your yoga journey will go. We all do. There’s an inner critic that holds everything you do up to a perfectionist standard of high achievement and judges you when you don’t meet those lofty expectations. When lotus pose just doesn’t seem to open on schedule, there is a feeling that it’s your fault, that you’re doing something wrong. When the handstand that you’ve been working for seems forever out of reach it feels almost personal, as though there is some reason why you in particular have not yet been blessed with a handstand. But there is no yoga pose fairy handing out poses to the good yogis. There is also no way you can set a due date for your body. The body has its own intelligence. Yoga is more about teaching you how to respect and learn from the wisdom of the body than it is about forcing the body to meet your preferred timeline.
If it were only so simple as checking off all the boxes, then we’d all be mastering all the poses. But there is also no guarantee that you’ll achieve every pose in this body, in this lifetime. And yet, yoga is here for you in every way for every day of your life. You see, yoga is not about the poses. The asanas are tools that you can use to grow spiritually, mentally and emotionally. The inner work is the real benefit of the practice. Buddhist teacher Ani Pema Chodron says that the spiritual path is like taking five steps forward and five steps back over and over again. Then, after many years of practice, you make progress, not in big giant leaps but in small humble steps. You end up taking five steps forward and four and a half steps back. At that moment all your training and discipline is needed in order to celebrate that half step forward. It would be so easy to lapse into bitterness and resentment. But if you can truly cherish that hard-won half step forward you are doing the real work of the spiritual path. And actually, every step you take is a step forward, even the ones that seem to go backwards.
Yoga gives you just enough positive reinforcement to keep you inspired and just enough challenge to keep you humble. The steps you take forward are exciting, but it’s the steps backward that build strength, determination, grit, lasting happiness and compassion.
The path of spiritual growth is not a linear trajectory up to some mythical mountaintop. It is a twisting turning road that winds through peaks and valleys. Sometimes it feels like you’re going in circles and making no progress only to find yourself in an entirely new, uncharted territory, doing things you never imagined possible. Rather than the simple and straight forward path we think we want, yoga gives you exactly what you’ll need to experience all the agony and ecstasy of the innermost adventure. Yoga is not about rushing to a destination, because there place out there to get to. Yoga is about the peace you find on the journey and will carry with you in your heart on every step you take.