We all want freedom: freedom from fear, from pain, from worrying about what others think of us. What would your life look like if you were completely free? How would you carry yourself? How would you spend your time? How would this freedom affect your relationships with others?
The word yoga has become synonymous with fancy postures, drinking kombucha, wearing mala beads and striving to live a perfect life in a perfect body. Let’s admit it: the common “westernized” version of yoga is intimidating. The ancient yogis didn’t care how they looked, what they wore or if they were doing the postures “correctly.” They were practicing for different reasons. They practiced to become more free.
Imagine a building with 100 stories. If you look out the window, the view will be different from each floor. We are all born on a floor within this hypothetical building. What we see and experience in life is colored by the floor from which we are viewing life. We are all born into a household, a family and particular life circumstances. From birth we are taught who we are, what we like and dislike, what is good and what is bad. We inevitably develop a learned perspective about living.
We also develop skills and tools to help us survive within our unique life circumstance. We spend most of our lives on this one floor of the 100-story building. We desperately try to stay there, even when it may be less than ideal. Everything else is unfamiliar and frightening. We may not have the tools to thrive in any other reality than the one we know.
If the full spectrum of life offers myriad possibilities depending upon one’s vantage point, the ancient yogis believed that to be completely free meant having the ability to choose where to be within the 100-story building at any given time to find a level-appropriate way to look at and react to every situation.
What does a yoga practice look like when it becomes about freeing ourselves from a self-limiting view of life? It still utilizes postures, breathing techniques and forms of meditation as the tools for self-discovery. However, students are guided and challenged to explore new ways of thinking and being.
Modern yoga is about taking an ancient philosophy and adapting it to day-to-day life situations. Anyone can reap the benefits of a well-guided yoga practice. Through yoga we become aware of our own colored views based on years of repetitive thought and behavior patterns. Yoga can also help to curtail self-criticism and soften our judgments of others. We can become the big person looking into the snow globe instead of the little person inside, lost in the storm. That is true freedom.
How does it work? Try following these 5 simple steps the next time life throws you a curve ball.
BREATHE Deepen the breath, elongating both inhale and exhale.
RELAX Scan your body and notice where you are holding tension. Exhale and release it. Start by softening the belly.
FEEL Take notice of any body sensations, thoughts or emotions that may be present. Turn your attention toward your moment to moment experience of these.
WATCH Observe the whole process as a “witness.” Notice how this is unfolding, rather than why, or if you like or dislike it. Personal connection with the situation will diminish and you can let it be exactly as it is.
ALLOW Allow the process to happen. Let go of resistance and control. Let the experience wash through you. In this moment of exhilaration, allow change to happen.
That’s it—you’re now a yogi.
Jessica Lohrey is a Certified Yoga Therapist practicing in Asheville, NC and Fort Lauderdale, FL. She offers private yoga sessions and mentorship for yoga teachers. Jessica believes in freedom for all living beings.