Yoga is a lifelong passion of mine. Since my son left home 10 years ago, and is successfully pursuing his own life I have been able to deepen my practice and dedicate more of myself to this amazing discipline. I love asana practice. For those of you who may not know much about the practices of yoga, asana is the practice of physical postures commonly referred to as hatha yoga, designed to connect body, mind, and soul.
As much as I love my asana practice, I love the philosophical aspects of yoga as well, and use the wisdom of the teachings to enhance the everyday-ness of my life.
It is said that the real yoga begins once we leave our yoga mats and apply what we have learned in our daily lives. The purpose of this blog is to share ways that I have learned to apply the principles of yoga in my personal life and in my professional life as a psychologist, to establish physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. My hope is that you will benefit from what I have learned and continue to learn on the ongoing path to self-knowlwdge.
One of the principles of yoga that is commonly taught is the importance of self- study. Recently in one of my classes our teacher dedicated our practice to that principle. He invited us to consciously keep it in mind as we entered into our physical practice of asana. It is amazing to observe what happens when you practice yoga for one and a half hours with the purpose of self-study in mind. You learn a lot about yourself – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You become aware of self enhancing and self defeating thought patterns and behaviors – and if you pay careful enough attention you become aware of what is optimal for you and what’s not. It got me to thinking about how important self- study is and how in my work as a psychologist it is the foundation of what I teach my clients.
Learning from our own lives requires a willingness to observe ourselves and study ourselves as if we were the most interesting subjects on the planet. Self -study is not the same as self absorption. Self absorption is a narcissistic preoccupation with self that disregards others. Self-study is a commitment to knowing one’s self inside and out – the best of ourselves and the worst of ourselves, with a desire to recognize how our thoughts, words, and behaviors affect us as well as others. It is the commitment to observing all of this without arrogance or judgment – but with humility for our gifts and with compassion for our flaws. It is the willingness to make changes that will bring us into optimal alignment with what is best in us.
Studying ourselves in this way requires cultivating a discipline of loving kindness toward ourselves. By observing ourselves through the eyes of loving kindness we open the way to learning from our own lives. By studying ourselves lovingly and respectfully, that is without shame, blame, or criticism, we access our own internal guidance system and discover that not only are we our own best teacher, but that we are also our own best student. Life itself becomes our classroom. We discover that we can learn from our successes and from our failures.
Learning to observe ourselves with compassion when we are at our worst is probably one of the most difficult lessons we have to learn, but it is surely one of the most important. Our relationships can be wonderful vehicles for self-study as they mirror for us important aspects of ourselves –especially our most challenging aspects. We’ve all heard it said that when someone really bothers us it might be because they are reflecting some part of ourselves that we have not made peace with.
It is a great challenge to face our flaws and our suffering with compassion. When we receive feedback that invites us to consider making some changes, it’s hard to look at our errors. The need to be right causes us to defend against any suggestion that we may need to improve. Instead, we act as if we know everything and reject the feedback and limit our ability to change.
Deep inside in the privacy of our own minds we blame ourselves for our mistakes, condemn ourselves for our failures and criticize ourselves for being imperfect. Ouch! No wonder we hurt. We are so busy shaming, blaming, and criticizing ourselves, we become blind to what’s best in us and trapped in the habit of focusing on what’s wrong with us. Until we are willing and able to view ourselves with compassion for our errors, and forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we remain stuck in a vicious cycle of self recrimination and deep suffering.
One of the ways to learn to identify with your strengths and what’s best about you is to notice what it is you admire in others. When you admire a characteristic or trait of another person it is often because you also possess that trait. Once you realize this you can focus on enhancing this trait in yourself.
You are bound to become more self-aware when you choose a path of self-study.
By cultivating the practice of compassionate self-study, we maximize the potential for becoming aware of what is best in us. What we focus on expands. By deepening our commitment to the practice of compassionate self-study, we can break the cycle of internalized shame, blame, and criticism. Then we can choose to align with what is best in us and begin to act in our own best interest as well as in the best interest of others.
When you practice yoga postures with awareness and a commitment to compassionate self-study you become attuned to your body’s misalignments. With this awareness you can begin to find ways to make adjustments that can protect you from injury and can free you from pain, leading to an experience of greater freedom and joy.
When you make a commitment to compassionate self-study off your yoga mat, you begin to observe your mental, emotional, and spiritual misalignments. This awareness, even if it is uncomfortable at first, creates an opportunity to make adjustments in your thinking and behavior that can bring you into alignment with what is best in you and optimal for you. This can greatly enhance the quality of your life benefitting you and all those around you. What could better than that?