Yoga as a Practice of Self Enquiry vs Self Improvement

I began my yoga journey with a long list of things I wanted to improve about myself. I wanted to feel happier, more peaceful, less stressed, more calm, less anxious, more flexible, the list went on…. I would diligently go to class 5 times per week, pushing my body to the extreme in the endless pursuit of the perfect pose and the perfect feeling of momentary peace. I did experience moments of deep peace and calm, but they didn’t last and I found myself constantly reaching for the next ‘achievement’- a deeper forward fold, a longer headstand hold or a longer meditation, hoping that this would give me that deeper sense of connection and meaning that I was truly yearning for. It never did, and in fact I found myself often agitated and frustrated in my practice.

With the hindsight of over a decade of yoga practice, I see that in my early days of yoga (as in the first 9 years!) I was approaching it as way to construct a preferred state. That I somehow needed to be different than how I am. This led to years of pushing myself, berating myself, imposing movement on my body that didn’t feel nourishing, all in the hope that one day, someday, I would find what I was looking for. That day never came.

Nowdays, I’m using my yoga as a practice of self enquiry, rather than self improvement. An investigation of what’s here in this moment now. It involves a willingness and openness to be with the physical sensations, thoughts and emotions, as they show up moment to moment in the practice. Self Inquiry begins from the starting point of enoughness- that who I am in this moment is enough. Not trying to make anything happen, not pushing. Moving the body from a place of awareness and allowance of what is. Moving in this way nourishes and heals the body. Flexibility and openness naturally happen because we’re not forcing and coercing.

Using the practice as a self enquiry often gives clarity and deep insight, as we’re not pushing an agenda or rigid idea of what needs to happen. We tend to feel a deeper sense of embodiment- an intimacy with what's here right now. A deeper feeling of aliveness and pleasure in the body, not just on the yoga mat but in all facets of life. The sweet warmth of sun on the skin, gentle blow of the wind, your breath caressing you from the inside out.

Of course having intentions and goals is a healthy and necessary part of living the life we want. The sweet invitation is to hold our intentions with a softness and spaciousness that allows for an intimacy with life as it is right now. Because it’s in this place that deep peace, healing and joy lives.

Soul Practice at the MaiTri Centre 30 July 2017.

Soul Practice at the MaiTri Centre 30 July 2017.