When you walked into a yoga studio for the first time, you might have been looking for stress relief. Another student might have wanted the ability to touch his toes. But even in that first class, you and your new practice buddy probably heard from inside yourself whisperings of ideas that went way beyond stress and toe-touching. Though you two had different goals, these rumblings of a life of awareness, lovingkindness, non-harm and contentment may have stirred a desire to head toward life-change. Though we have different reasons for getting on the mat, yoga presents to you a path dotted with practices and philosophical teachings to create transformation.
Along your newfound path, you probably found new aspects of yourself to explore. Why is it that you want to touch your toes anyway? Will that help you improve at your sport? Is it simply something you’ve always wanted to do? As you study yourself, the answer to this question shows itself. As you learn to treat yourself with ahimsa, non-harm, you learn a new approach to stretching your hamstrings. Perhaps you learn that you’ve been trying to force the toe-touch. Maybe you notice negative self-talk - “I’ll never be able to do this if I couldn’t do it as a kid,” or labeling - “I’m one of those people who can’t touch their toes.” You learn to observe these habits without judgment, which is the beginning of the unraveling of those habits. Little changes occur, in mindset and approach. You begin to see a teensy bit of movement toward your toes. Instead of the all-or-nothing approach - “I can touch them,” or “I can’t,” - you celebrate the tiny progress.
As you develop awareness, you realize what causes your stress, what stress feels like in your body and mind. You learn that as the mind stills in yoga, the stress diminishes, at least somewhat. As you continue to study yourself, you see deeper and deeper into your stress. You learn so much about yourself from watching it. You learn that you are not your stress. You learn that your beautiful soul is unchanging even as your stress fluctuates. You become aware of the habits that lead you off the path of peace, and you begin to climb out of that rut.
In both cases, as you continue to practice yoga, you detach from results and do the work without expectations. In doing so, you move toward living in the present. Spending less time thinking of the past and future, you shed your labels and let them fly away like dandelion seeds on their chimney sweep wings, getting closer to the core of your true self. This is the transformation. Eventually, those reasons you came to class slip away as you find there’s so much more to you than stress and toes.