I don't believe we any of us know who we really are, what we are capable of. Yet our 'identity' - the things we believe to be true about ourselves and tell ourselves - is the strongest motivating force and understanding of life that we have. So we hurt. We hurt because there is a primal discrepancy between this identity and the truth. One of the fundamental human traits is an ability to change and to grow.
Yet the nearly universal experience is a feeling of being unable to change.
The practice of yoga has the power to so drastically re-arrange our bodies and our psyches and our souls we might be startled. This isn't metaphor. It isn't self help craziness. It is the practical outcome of a very specific set of practices and observances.
I have seen persons with chronic pain become agile, joyful, active and more alive than the majority of american adults. I have seen persons work through severe trauma, anxiety, depression. I have seen people who were told they would never walk again run, dance, and jump. Others lose hundreds of pounds. I have seen a 'paralyzed' man become a gifted and compassionate yoga teacher and himself move into poses that are 'impossible'. A 'blind' man so increase his proprioceptive functioning he can see.
But here, here is the secret: it is not a thing you can think about, believe, or wish your way into. It will not be what you expect. The truth is you cannot 'will' your way out of an addiction, a depression, a panic attack, grief, hormones, or pain. You cannot 'control' your thoughts or your consciousness.
It is a thing you let go of, instead. It is an experience, not an idea. You may have to be willing to 'let go' of your old ideas and stories of identity. Some say so. I don't necessarily agree; I think it just happens. I think that we show up to meditation or a yoga studio because we want to fix a sore back, or our girlfriend made us do it, or we are intrigued enough to try. The practice itself is a biochemical change to consciousness. It is a re-ordering of our endocrine system. It is a suspension of our stories and an experience of how many other things could, actually, be possible.
When I say stories and identities, I mean the voices in our heads. The rock hard belief that 'I am not a flexible person' or 'I am bi-polar, this is just who I am' or 'I need chocolate now' or 'I can never tell this to anyone, ever'. We all have a little city inside, a whole population of 'selves'. We fill various roles (daughter, employee, born in such a such a city, American, woman, mother, shopper at Walgreens, watcher of romantic comedies). If we watch our thoughts, we'll start to know them. We'll start to see that 'mother' isn't even the end of it, we have "I'm a good mother when I..." and "I'm an awful parent when I..." inside there. We've got a holographic imprint of every experience, every conversation, every relationship covering our insides like decoupage to the bones, a library in the brain, mostly unconscious but active in us still. As instinct. As impulse. As pattern and personality. And behind all of these selves there is usually a more prominent, more 'rational' self. A kind of manager or director. It's the one who keeps all those other crazy characters in line. The one who hands out assignments and judges outcomes. It's the one we usually think of as 'me'.
But even that self is a story and an identity. Even that self can be seen as 'pattern', 'habit', 'conditioning'. It is not true. There is more to our potential and our body. Yoga is a remarkable way to begin playing in terms of that potential, that more. A way to experience biochemistry, expanded awareness, the life of life and the body of body, which alternately feels more authentic and more impersonal than any one of the 'voices' we've ever heard before.
Yoga is a delicate and probing exploration of our self. Our selves. We trace 'I am just an angry person' and 'I don't know why I did that' and 'I want to be a better person, but' to it's root source.
Yoga is revelation.
Yet you can't just read this and get it. You can't just hope for it and watch it happen. I'm a yoga teacher, for crying out loud; I know this and I've seen it happen in students over and over again and yet it's hard for me to do the truth.
Do: do. The truth is done, an action.
Yoga will not change you unless you do yoga. Meditation will not change your brain chemistry unless you meditate.
If you show up on the mat, you will change. But you must show up on the mat.
I do not say easy, and I don't say magical. I say real.