“Peace is our very nature, and yoga leads you to inner peace.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Yoga is not just the postures, though it is the first thing one tends to do when beginning the practice; it also includes breathing techniques and meditation (to mention a few, since yoga is considered to have 8 “branches” or “limbs” that eventually will lead you to Self-realization or Enlightenment.) According to B.K.S. Iyengar, “we use these practices to help us learn and overcome the inevitable pains and afflictions of life.”
Yoga is just one of the means you can use to uncover your inner peace. The attention to your movement combined with your awareness on your breath allows you let go of the past and the future by being present in the moment. Have you ever noticed that calmness, that feeling of being at peace you get when you come out of a yoga class? After a while you start yearning for that feeling when you are not on your mat. And it is this constant practice of yoga, the constant practice of awareness, of presence, that will give you the resources to access this inner peace any time you need it. One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle, describes Presence as “a state of inner spaciousness”, and the only way you can create more space is by letting go of everything that is unnecessarily occupying space in yourself: all the thoughts about the past and your past mistakes, all the things you didn’t say but wish you had, reliving arguments and hurts; and also all your thoughts about the future and that place where and when you will definitely be happy because such and such will happen and THEN your life will be better. Your life happens now. And when you learn to be present in your Now, whatever your Now might be at this moment, when you release your outcomes and stop fighting what is, when an acceptance of what is happening now enters your awareness, then you will be able to find this inner peace and take it with you everywhere you go. You can access this peace anytime, anywhere. This inner peace that you find is your true essence; no one can take it away from you because it is you.
So, what can yoga teach us on the mat about inner peace? What inner qualities will we learn to be able to access this peace? Yoga teaches so many things that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the postures. The yoga asanas, or poses, will lead you to discover things about yourself that you didn’t know you had. Courage, perseverance, endurance, balance, concentration, patience and so much more can be gained through the practice of the yoga asanas. Yoga opens the way for you to love yourself the same way you love your BFF, to know your body, to love your body for the amazing things that it can do on the mat (and off the mat too!.) And so it gives you a new perspective about yourself that you didn’t have before. You learn that to be present during your practice, to fully take advantage of all these benefits, you need to let go of your mind.
The changes in your mind are subtle and you need to be present to notice. Take for example Tree Pose, a pose in which you are balancing on one foot. You are not thinking while doing it: Ohh I’m balancing on one foot, it probably means I’m learning to find my own balance in life. But you are learning that if you lose your concentration, if your base (your foot) is not grounded, stable, you will lose your balance and fall out of the pose. And it happens the same way in your life: if you lose sight of what’s important RIGHT THIS MOMENT, you will lose your balance and fall back on the negative, destructive, worrisome thoughts that are usually present in your head 24/7. Now, if you fall out of Tree pose, nothing happens. You try again – there’s no judgment. And the same should go for your life: if you fall back on the negative, self defeating thoughts, you try again! I like saying that each day you begin being a new person. Each day brings you another opportunity to try again. No judgments, there’s no point in doing that, if you fell, you fell, that’s already in the past. So, what do you plan on doing RIGHT NOW? One of my dear teachers, Elena Brower, said it best: “…we practice to keep re-arranging our state.” So if you fall, just get up and try again. It takes patience.
Now, the breathing techniques will help you find balance, to come back to your center. Breathing consciously will always bring you back to this moment, to the feelings and sensations in your body. Let’s say you are feeling anxious, nervous, upset, and even angry. Stop for two minutes and start taking deep breaths: feel your breath going in your body, feel its quality and allow it to become long and deep; you’ll start to calm down almost immediately. Tolle says that “being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment—the key to all inner transformation. Whenever you are conscious of the breath, you are absolutely present. Conscious breathing stops your mind.” And Patanjali, the author of the famous Yoga Sutras said that the control of the breath “destroys the veil that covers the inner light.”
Then meditation comes. Meditation is not an easy task at first, but like everything, it requires consistency. It quiets your mind, it teaches you to let go of your thoughts at will. For a few minutes everything gets quiet, still. You are able to access the stillness within you that will bring forth the presence and creativity you need to face your now and take action if necessary. You are able to access the spaciousness within you where everything is possible. There are many different meditation techniques available but all of them have the same goal: to help you to let go, to help you get in touch with your true Self, to help you to slow down and enjoy the miracle and beauty that is your life. Pema Chödron, a beloved teacher in the Buddhist tradition, explains that “by getting in touch with our innate vulnerability and bringing an attitude of unconditional kindness to ourselves, we can work toward taming the one thing that causes suffering—the mind.”
So all these practices together help you move forward, you find the courage to let go of your fear and try. And if you fail you get up and try again, you persevere with patience and discipline. If there is a problem, you don’t hide, you keep going. Are you scared? YES! (HELL YEAH!) But if you are present you trust that your circumstances are just temporary, you trust that whatever is happening is there to teach you something. You know that you are where you are supposed to be and that whatever happens, you will be alright. This is INNER PEACE and it is yours to keep forever.