People often tout that yoga keeps them strong and flexible, but have you ever heard how yoga promotes honesty? Many of us approach yoga through an injury or when hunting for something alternative to our exercise regime or when on a quest for inner peace. When you develop a habit of doing yoga on a regular basis, you begin to realize the deeper, more profound effects of the practice. How then does yoga specifically, keep you honest?
First, when you step onto your mat, whether for the first time or the hundredth time, you must gently come to terms with where you are in that moment. Do you have pain in your back, neck, or shoulders? Are you anxious, are you tired or full of trepidation about being new to yoga? Acknowledging the truth about where you are beginning, helps you with self-acceptance and growth. It is okay to admit you’re not over the moon about practicing, perhaps you have a list a mile long of things you think you need to do. Once you’ve shaken hands with your present state, you can begin to breathe and work through the challenges, letting them go one breath at a time.
The asanas or poses require honesty. If you are new to yoga, be realistic, like anything novel, it takes time and practice to understand the nuances, to become proficient. You don’t learn a foreign language overnight, it takes years of study, speaking, practicing. The same is true for yoga. There are many postures that I simply cannot do, even though I’ve been practicing yoga for twenty years. Because of how my body is structurally made; the only way I could sit in full lotus is if my legs were disconnected! You can have a beautiful truthful yoga practice, without mastering each pose. And remember, our bodies are uniquely made, the truth is, not all poses are good for all bodies. For example, if you have lumbar stenosis or high blood pressure, doing headstands is not recommended.
Don’t be deterred by what you are not able to do, focus on what you can do. Everyone can breathe. The breath is what differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise. Breath control or pranayama as it is called in Sanskrit calms and quiets the mind from the mayhem of chatter. Kabir, the 15th-century mystic and poet once said; “In this visible matter is the invisible bird. Pay attention to her, she is singing your song.” You can learn to honestly pay attention through the breath and the flow of energy through the asanas. And if you have one of those days where you can’t squeeze in a practice—simply close your eyes and breathe for ten minutes. You can reconnect to that quiet space within, and that is yoga.
Yoga teachers cannot teach you honesty in your practice, it is through personal persistence and patience that you discover your truth. There are many styles and schools of yoga, find those that speak to you. Remember a yoga practice is dynamic and ever-changing, just like your body. What you preferred at one point, may give way to something new. Be honest with what you need from your practice; the calming quality of restorative, the physical opening of Vinyasa, or perhaps the repetition of Kundalini.
Classes are a wonderful place to experience the energy and inspiration of others. The challenge of classes is to keep your competitive or judgmental side at bay. Just because the woman in front of you can touch her toes, doesn’t mean you have to, particularly if your body is not ready. New students often get injured in classes, because they don’t want to modify or use a strap or a block. I always remind my students, this is not a performance, wrap up your ego and pick it up on the way out. Yoga holds space for you, modern society dictates enough of your time, use your yoga practice as a safe-haven to fully express your unique self.
Yoga supports your efforts to live with integrity, to be true, to be honest, and like all things that are worthy, it takes time and practice. It is a platform for mindfulness. When you become mindful, you wake up to the truth, and there is no more looking back at dishonesty as a choice. Yoga doesn’t require you to wear the right clothes or hold a handstand to become honest. All you need to pack with you on this journey is your willingness to let go of pretense in order to embrace your true self.