Authored by Dave Ursillo (RYT-200), who teaches at Laughing Elephant Yoga on Mondays at 6:30 PM and Tuesdays at 12:15 PM.
As a yoga teacher at Laughing Elephant Yoga, I’ve found that many new yogis begin their journey into yoga because they are searching for a form of physicality and movement that can help them feel good, healthy and strong in their bodies — without the usual stress and strain of calorie-burning workout programs.
I first explored yoga because I was curious to find a way of using my body to gain strength and feel healthy, without the need for weights, gyms or equipment. The movement and physical practice drew me in.
For all of us human beings, the external, physical or “gross” outer layer of something most commonly moves and motivates us. We’re visual creatures, after all. The outer layer is what we see, touch and feel. The physical or external form of something is what seems most real, and thus most appealing. Attraction speaks deeply to the primal animal in each of us. Just think about how we’re attracted to potential partners: visual, physical, sexual attraction can strike with a simple look across the room.
Something starting from simple attraction is completely normal.
How interesting, though, that many other actions and decisions are motivated by the physical attraction to something. Like yoga.
Yoga is a very attractive form of movement. Its movements flow. Its poses can be beautiful, eye-opening and stunningly impressive. Yoga is visually appealing. In fact, Krishnamacharya, the “Father of Modern Yoga,” even put his young students on public display in India to use the visual appeal of yoga asanas to attract new people into its practice.
Even beyond the “look” of yoga, it’s the physicality of it — how the exercise of yoga can appeal to new students — that often brings students into the practice.
But there’s another layer to yoga that is far and away the most vital aspect of it.
It’s not the look of yoga. It’s not the physicality of it. It’s not sweating, looking hot or dropping pounds. The ultimate practice of yoga isn’t even to stretch muscles, or get more flexible.
The Art of Yoga is Inner Inquiry.
Go back to that example of being attracted to a potential partner. The looks and appearance of someone are what we first notice. What we see is what we know first — and so this is the gateway into our interest, our attraction.
But what happens next? Inquiry.
After initial attraction, we have to find out more about who the human is inside of that physical attraction. We engage in conversation, a rapport, a relationship. What is “dating” but a series of opportunities to inquire about the truth of the human beneath his or her appearance?
Inquiry takes time, of course. It takes asking questions, over and again. Inquiry requires how someone reacts to different situations at different times — not just niceties and pleasant moments, but the tough times, the big problems, the obstacles.
Your yoga is no different.
You don’t only come to yoga when you’re feeling 100% rested, energetic and well; when you feel your most flexible, content, grounded and peaceful.
You come to yoga when you’re batshit crazy. When your shoulder is sore. When you don’t feel 100%. When you’re on the verge of a breakdown.
You Can’t Know Your True Self Unless You Know Your Whole Self
That means showing up to your practice when you don’t feel perfect. It means moving through your yoga when the poses aren’t perfect — in fact, it means embracing every imperfection as “enough.”
To know your True Self, you have to forge a relationship to your whole self: all sides and facets that make up who you are. That relationship hinges upon you being real and true to yourself in these moments of yogic inquiry — because yoga is not about “looking” or “appearing” or even “seeming” perfect.
In yoga, each and every movement — each and every breath — is an opportunity to witness the Self.
Feelings and sensations provide data-like feedback that we can witness, observe, and objectively process. Movement (taking form as asanas, “postures” or “seats”) and breath (pranayama, consciously manipulating your breath for intended effects) work to interrupt ego-based thinking patterns.
Movement and breathing to disrupt the “mental grooves” or habituated thinking tracks, called samskara in yogic philosophy.
These mental grooves of thought are what subconsciously restrain the human condition to be bound in ego and self-limited thought, and held back from true Self-realization.
We use yoga poses and breathing like tools. The goal isn’t to strike the poses perfectly.
When we move and when we breathe deliberately, we begin to shed layers. We move our consciousness from its usual shackles of ego — stuck in the mind, in mental perception, in ego-based processing, and stories and narratives we tell ourselves are “truths” – and begin to drift into a more deliberate, feel-based and present state of awareness.
We become “yoked,” or whole.
It Starts with Attraction. It Moves to Inquiry.
Whatever motivates you to come to the yoga mat, trust that feeling and feel really good about it.
The truth is, for many of us, simply getting to the yoga studio for a class is the biggest victory. We rule our everyday lives through stress, anxiety, pressures, over-scheduling and being way too demanded upon by responsibilities, jobs, tasks, duties, and others’ expectations and assumptions.
Just getting to yoga is enough.
Just moving in order to move is enough. Just feeling, being in-body (“embodied”), is a huge victory in the scope of everyday lives where we’re mostly stuck in our heads.
If you keep going to the mat long enough, eventually, the journey will shift and evolve. The movement will become secondary to going “back home” within yourself.
Dave Ursillo is a writer, author, professional storyteller and yoga teacher at Laughing Elephant Yoga. A former politico who once walked in the West Wing of the White House, Dave left his career in public service to pursue writing as his form of personal leadership. Today, Dave helps creative self-starters and “everyday yogis” master the Self, awaken the Soul and lead with love. Find Dave at DaveUrsillo.com.