I spent a few days last week filming some online content for Yoga International. On the final day, we were shooting B-roll for promotions and marketing— photos in my yard, me playing with my dog, stirring a pot of soup in my kitchen, and answering questions about my relationship to yoga. One of the questions I get asked the most in interviews such as these is how I stay inspired to practice.
My answer to the question of inspiration has a few different layers.
The first layer is that I do not stay inspired all the time. Like anyone else, I fall in and out of love with my practice. I do not always appreciate what is required to sustain my sadhana. I go through periods of inspiration and periods of boredom and disinterest. Asana practice, meditation, mantra, writing, etc. are like any other relationship in my life. Some days I devote great attention to them and other days my relationship might best be described as avoidant.
That being said, the next layer is that inspiration is not required for sustaining a practice over the course of one’s life, participation is. I brush my teeth twice every day and I am rarely inspired to do it. I just do it. I even brush my teeth on days I feel so tired all I want to do is get in bed as soon as possible. So, another layer to my answer is that inspiration, when it comes to a lifelong practice, may be overrated.
I think it is unrealistic to expect to feel constantly inspired. Take marriage, for instance. I am not inspired every day to be married. And during the tough periods, I am not always inspired for the work it takes for me and Kelly to find the common ground required to go forward together. But more days than not, my marriage is simply part of the warp and weft of my life and I participate in it without thinking too much about it. In a lot of ways, asana, meditation and teaching are like that— part of the loom upon which the rest of life is woven.
The next layer to my answer regarding inspiration is that I am a student of myself. I don’t have to study myself long to observe the knots of psychological contraction that take the forms of defensiveness, fragility, insecurity, anger, fear, jealousy and suspicion to find some inspiration to stay the course on the path of practice. Honestly recognizing how much work I have to do usually provides a useful dose of inspiration to keep me going.
Lest the news seem bleak, the flip side to how much work I have to do is that I can also see how far I have come over the years. I am not the same person who set foot on the journey thirty years ago. For all the contraction that still requires my attention, I have changed and expanded in surprising and beautiful ways. I know what self-compassion is and how to offer it to myself, I have discovered softness, kindness, forbearance, patience, and I have the capacity to experience my life more fully and directly than I ever dreamed was possible. The perspectives, practices and protocols I have used over the years have worked and I find inspiration in the many ways I have grown, overcome, and moved through my various challenges.
And, of course, one look beyond my immediate life and I am confronted with reminders of how many ways power is abused and how much we all suffer due to avidya, or ignorance. From the political arena to the corporate world, from universities to churches and ashrams, oppressive structures of power permeate even the most seemingly-benign and well-intentioned institutions. I personally feel a bit weary from trying to keep up with the latest examples of oppression, coercion, and manipulative tactics used to maintain a status quo that is inherently unjust and yet, I find the situation in which we find ourselves as a culture a source of inspiration for practice.
At the heart of yoga practice for me, is not a better body, a more rewarding career, a head full of esoteric explanations or anything else that typically shows up on the brochures and web pages we use to peddle our craft as yoga teachers. At the heart of the yoga experiment to me is wholeness and the tools and techniques to dig beneath and beyond the many fractured aspects of my psychology, perceptions, and conditioned perspectives to more fully know where wholeness is sourced. Sometimes the work feels graceful and at other times, gritty. That’s the way of it. But, I do think that, as yoga practitioners, we are equipped to look beneath the surface of life and find inroads that are real, viable, sustaining and sustainable.
On the surface of life, I urge you to vote. If I had my preference, I would have you vote Blue, but I am not so simple as to think that everyone who shares a practice of yogic inquiry comes to the same political conclusions. So, please vote, donate money to good causes, protest, write letters, make phone calls, and participate in the political process in any way you can.
And while I do not think that a well-aligned trikonasana or a handstand in the middle of the room stands a chance against the forces of misogyny, racism, climate change, and corrupt politics, I do think yogic practice can work to dismantle the ways those forces have taken root inside of us individually. And, call me idealistic, I also believe that our individual work can ripple into our yoga communities and provide us with a conscious microcosm in which to practice ideals of justice, unity, diversity, and harmony. Of course, we can bring our fragility, fear, suspicion and defensiveness into those same spaces and create further damage to ourselves, to one another, and particularly to people in marginalized groups. There are no guarantees and yet, I find the possibility of who we can become through conscious community infinitely inspiring.
And, we can move and breathe, which will not change who is in the White House, but will most certainly change the way we inhabit the house we call our own body and the “small nation that is our own being.” (BKS Iyengar)
Keep the faith.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."