Awaken to your True Nature

By Dr. Arielle Schwartz

I was in a yoga practice earlier this week engaged in a relatively uncomfortable hold in a deep lunge. Had I been practicing at home I might have avoided this posture all together or only stayed in it for a few breaths. However, I went to a class that would that I knew would encourage me to go a little deeper. So, there I was, feeling the burn in my right thigh, listening to the voice in my head that said “out,” fighting the distracting urge to escape the moment.

As I continued to sustain my lunge another thought arose, “You chose this challenge.” My entire experience shifted. “Nobody is making me stay here. I can choose to rest into child’s pose and that is a completely valid option. It’s up to me.” This time I chose to stay, directing my attention fully on the breath, the sensations in my right leg, and the feeling of my feet firmly grounded into my yoga mat. When we finally released out of the pose and came forward into Samasthiti (equal standing pose) I felt a deep satisfaction of a profoundly awake mind and body.

How do you know when to challenge yourself and when to emphasize ease? The truth is nobody gets to answer this question for you. There will be phases in all of our lives when we have more capacity to say “I want more; bring it on!” And there will be times when we are already weighed down by life’s challenges. Here we might say “I cannot handle any more stress.” The balance of challenge and ease is one that evolves to match the ever changing phases of our lives.

My Kripalu yoga teacher training emphasized that “will and surrender” exist as polarities that need to exist in balance; like two wings of a bird that need to function in tandem to create flight. This offers a beautiful metaphor for life. Too much force and we risk becoming rigid and hard. Too much emphasis on surrender and we risk becoming stagnant or over-flexible.

Underneath the polarity of challenge and ease lives Satya. Satya, translated as “truthfulness,” is one of the Yamas (ethical guidelines) from Patanjali’s sacred text on the Yoga Sutras. Satya, within the physical practice of yoga, asks us to be honest with ourselves about how to approach a posture. If we become competitive or attached to the outer look of a posture we might push ourselves past healthy limits and risk injury. Conversely, when we fear discomfort we may shy away from sensation and a posture becomes dull.

Listen honestly to your sensations, emotions, and breath in asana practice. Is there a sharp pain? Are you holding your breath? Maybe it is time to back off. Do you feel tired or uninterested? Can you deepen into the posture or refocus your attention? By listening honestly you get feedback about when to push and when to soften. In this manner, Satya expands beyond the notion of truth-telling into the vast experience of living your “true nature.” As a result, your practice transforms from a form of physical exercise into an opportunity to awaken to your true self; to that which is pure and unchanging.

How might this look in practice? You begin by actively engaging in physical postures, emphasizing alignment as a means to concentrate on the sensations in your body. Deepening into postures you might notice that fear and pain arise. You may want to run. You challenge yourself to meet your experience. You ease away and then rise again to meet your experience. Maybe you feel irritable, uncomfortable. Then a shift happens. You move from thinking to feeling. Something shifts inside and you feel the experience energetically. There is a surge of emotion, a shake in the body. You are now guided by your sensations. You return to the familiarity of a posture and find another spontaneous impulse to move. You surrender to impulse and sensation. You continue to follow the urge to move eventually softening into stillness.

“Like a grain of salt dissolves in water, so the mind becomes one with the highest self.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (4.5) Svami Svatmarama

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