Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yoga Butt to Enlightenment

Yoga butt. Yes, we all want one. Yoga arms, yoga glow, yoga high. We want it, we're addicted to it. But we also know that yoga as union is always about making deeper connections. So how does touching our toes, getting a tight yoga butt or sweating on the mat relate? How does putting our feet behind our heads help with the process of enlightenment?

Whether we want a toned body, weight loss or to be more limber, the physical aspects of yoga are the reason most of us start practicing. I am often asked if it is possible to be toned and fit and healthy from yoga alone. This is not a stupid question as the body and the mind are intimately connected and ultimately lead us to our hearts. When you effect one, you influence the other. The body is the meeting place of the inner and outer world. We, literally take in air, food, sights, sounds and smells through our body. As we assimilate them, they become us and the inner and outer worlds merge. If nothing else, the physical practice gets us in the metaphorical door and at some point we realize we feel much better because of it.

Being physically fit is a crucial aspect of the teachings of yoga. Yoga helps to purify the body by sweating, bending, twisting and literally wringing out the organs. As each part of the body is addressed through the physical practices, homeostasis is achieved. It is like maintenance of your vehicle; taking proper care of your body will extend its life. Not to mention that if you feel good, you will be happier and both those things will make you look good, too, so yes, you can have that yoga butt!

This body is the vehicle we ride in through life and just like a car, we want to be comfortable in it. Yoga, on the outer layer, addresses the aches and pains that we get from being active, from sleeping funny, from being out of balance or simply form aging. The physical practice keeps the joints well oiled and brings muscles into balance to support the bones. But the truly amazing thing that happens along the way is we become much more aware of how we feel and who we are. And over time we become more comfortable with that, too.

There are two main purposes of practice. Initially it is to reconnect with the spark of Divine light that lives deep within each of us. When we remember that connection and begin to live from that place of confidence, a sense of joy and ease arises. Simply by living from our truth, we stumble into the second purpose for practicing, which is to celebrate and glorify this universal light of good that shines through all of us in our own unique way.

As the kinks are ironed out through the physical practice there is a purification happening, a cleansing of the mirror to better see our own reflection. In that clearer state, we step back and see the bigger picture. Yes, touching our toes starts to feel good, but it also makes us become really present in the weaving together of the inner and outer worlds. We start to unveil that intrinsic light and engage with the world more deeply from that place of celebrating who we are.

Often when we begin our yogic journey, we discover that we have been checked out of our bodies and our emotions for a long time. For the first 6 months of my yoga life I cried every time I stretched open my throat in full wheel. I thought something was wrong with me until I consulted my teacher. "No," he said, "this is normal." At first, we may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of stretching parts of ourselves that we have been ignoring. But yoga asks us to be patient and allow the journey to unfold in its own time. Yoga reminds us not to force things, if we rush too quickly or are out of alignment we may pull a muscle. The body, through the physical practice, becomes teacher. "No, you don't have to be anything other than who you are," it says. "Relax, breathe, let go.”

As we twist, turn, balance and sweat, we tap into vast stores of power we may not even know we have. We push the edge and challenge our bodies to stretch. I didn't believe I'd ever get past that phase of weeping out all the old emotion in deep back bends. And then one day the tears dried up and my edge changed. I could hold the poses longer, I could breathe more evenly and ultimately started doing more challenging postures.

We think we know who we are, then we hit the edge and the edge shifts. We store our emotions and memories bottled up in our bodies and when we face them, stretch them and move them, there is an outpouring. The mirror gets cleaned and the light becomes brighter, we see it more clearly and naturally begin to celebrate it.

My back bend journey evolved and one day, while holding a pose I leaned my head way back and saw my own foot! It was like looking in mirror. At first I was sure it wasn't my foot, then when I tried to move it, it seemed to not even respond. When I finally came out of the pose I was forever shifted. And that is what the practice does for us. It shifts our reality, it shows us our own light, it allows us to celebrate and it even makes our butts look good!

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