The body is a good place to start a spiritual practice because of its potential to change and show us concrete results.
By exploring the physical practice of Hatha Yoga, you begin to recognize the balance, strength and firmness of your body. From this foundation you can develop a trust in yourself to discover new possibilities not only in your body, but in your emotional, mental and spiritual attitudes.
A Hatha practice is really a beginning step. We practice asanas, postures, positions. Our bodies loosen, our breath deepens, our minds expand. The next step is discovering how we bring this experience from our practice to our lives outside the classroom. Can we learn to embody the essence of a pose and bring it forward into daily life, into our relationships, our families, our work?
For some people, the Tortoise pose is a challenging pose to go into, but the Tortoise can teach us much about patience. What does it require physically? You enter with care, moving slowly, with consideration, to warm up the body. You need to be patient to extend the stretch, relaxing while staying engaged.
The pose really starts when you stay with it. As you learn to hold a pose, there is a knowing you can draw on. When you accept where you are in the Tortoise pose, then you can meet the place of limitation and begin to discover that something moves even in the stillness. You don’t need to strive to meet any expectations. You are in a position to use the stillness for self-investigation. Staying with it reminds you that you can approach the truth about yourself by degrees.
Now translate your learning as you enter into a challenging situation in your daily life, whether at work or in your family. Bring in what you know from the Tortoise about patience, flexibility, care and consideration. For example, you are in a meeting, and the agenda is set about a project to complete. The purpose of the meeting is clear, yet there is an underlying tension that starts to develop between several people, which takes away the focus and keeps bringing it back to a personal level. You may feel your shoulders start to hunch and stiffen and your lower back begins to ache. Is this the position you want to take?
Remember back to the Tortoise pose. Can you take the pose mentally into the meeting? Can you keep an inward focus on patience and stay relaxed while being stretched? By staying engaged with what is really happening, there is an opportunity to ask questions and the undercurrents can clear. The truth in the moment can be recognized.
By staying with the situations and working through challenges that arise you can move beyond self-imposed limitations. Slowly, you may notice the other people start to listen to each other and respond with care and consideration. And as they see their positions differently, the focus in the meeting returns to the project.
We have so many expectations of what we should look like or how we should be in any situation, especially if we are trying something for the first time. Often there’s someone right beside us who looks like they can do everything better or faster than we can. There is an expectation we can do the perfect pose, be the best person on the job. There are many expectations, but what happens if you strive to get into that pose or strive to do the work better than the other person? Usually only a lot of pain. What is needed is the concentration of self-discipline where all your movements of the body and mind are considered and skillful. It may not a perfect pose or solution but it is respectful.
When you are respectful to yourself, then you can begin to see that the body is a spiritual tool that responds to subtle influences—the breath stills and allows the mind to focus, mantra calms and softens from the inside out, Light charges the body and allows it to lighten and stretch. These influences help in any situation and bring you back to the purpose of yoga, which is to recognize your essential self, your ideals and your unique path to liberation.
Our bodies carry us forward into every situation in our life. By going into the poses you gain strength, flexibility, patience, acceptance, discipline and openness. Coming out of the pose, the continuation of the practice is to bring what you have developed forward and not collapse back into an old way. You can build the bridges of lived experience between your physical/mental/emotional/spiritual worlds to keep the practice honest and evolving.
In keeping your commitment to your divinity and your ideals, you begin to master the pose and you go deeper into the subtle levels of understanding where you meet intuition and inspiration. Here is where the understanding of spiritual practice becomes evident, in the moments of joy and harmony within body and mind, and with the people around you. Yoga becomes a dance, a fluid movement through the ups and downs of our life, a way to approach our life with creativity, a way of healing and health and a way to make space and nourish the light within.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own (This piece originally appeared in Ascent Magazine)