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The Transformative Power of Yoga

There are many definitions of yoga.  The layman would call it exercise, perhaps a religion. We're not layman anymore; we've felt its strangeness, glimpsed the fact that awareness and breath are more important than the physical benefits of poses.  And at no point are you given religious answers.  You're asked questions. What do you believe?  Are you grateful? To what or whom are you faithful? What is in your mind, your heart?  What is happening in your body? What is the purpose of your being alive, right now?  Do you feel joy, or grief, or inspiration?

What are you going to do about it, in this moment, in this lifetime?

You can't have those questions asked of you and not be changed.  Not, unless, you ignore the questions and walk away.  Transformation happens.  Alchemy.  It is ruthlessly personal, the actual handing of your body and your mind back to your own self.  The invitation to say yes.  The implications.  The bursting of the possibilities at the seams.

Because it is personal, the steps and stages of the path will be personal and unique.  The questions about diet and poses, right and wrong, schedule and belief have to be your questions, not answers off of a blog or out of a book.  But there are steps, guideposts, directions.

If you want the alchemy, if you want transformation, your practice needs to be supported by three pillars.  Each is necessary, none can dominate.  A combination of tapas, svadhaya, and ishvara pradnihara results in change.  Of course, the perfect balance of the three is difficult, probably temporary, a direction to go rather than a description of the way things are.  It was probably one of the three that brought us to the mat in the first place, and on any given day in any given moment one of the three will predominate.  Knowing this and moving toward whole is how we go deeper.  The flickers of time in which all three are present is the moment we feel on fire, in love, in the flow, full of grace, inspired, absolutely in tune.

Knowing all three are necessary gives us direction when we feel stuck.  Of course, the difficulty is probably exactly there, too.  We are driven, passionate, strong and full of tapas.  But we're stuck in a pose for months, doubt the next stage will ever come, or stuck in a quagmire of thought and emotional patterns that don't seem to want to budge.  We drift back, over and over again, to believing 'this is just who I am, this is the way it is'.  We've got the tapas and want to believe the way to unstuck is more tapas.  Practice more often or harder, push through pain on the mat, or keep on keeping on in our lifestyle and emotive life.

What we need then is surrender and reflection.

Or flip it: we're reflective as heck, we spend lots of time asking the questions and trying to be receptive to the answers.  We believe we've got the meditation thing down pat.  We accept that our body is not ready for handstand and take child's pose, over and over again. We can spend years navel gazing and accepting.  We'll stay stuck that way, too.  We need, at that point, to DO something.  We need action.  To take the step.  To admit that it is habit that has stuck us and take the actions of quitting the cigarettes or getting to class or ditching the abusive relationship or the gluten.  We need to apply tapas, and perhaps a firery enough tapas to admit that no amount of time spent on the mat this week will solve it, that what you actually need is to apply what you've learned on the mat to this actual off the mat situation in your life.  Or you need to be brave enough to leave child's pose.  Action changes things.

But then it swings back to reflection and surrender: we must act, we must do our work, but no amount of work is going to mean we control the outcome.