How yoga helped me discover my purpose and more
On the day of my yoga teacher training graduation, I am in front of the altar for a little personal time to reflect on what yoga has meant to me. The floral smell of the incense, the cozy light seeping through the Himalayan salt lamp, the comforting and sweet energy of my fellow yogis, even the deity figures in the altar feel like home. I do not want to leave my home. A powerful sense of belonging, gratitude, and humility overwhelm me.
My beloved teacher Allison asks me to say a few words about this training journey. I am having a hard time putting words on what it has been for me. I think to myself, “How can I summarize such a deep and multifaceted gift?” My 230-hour teacher training just cracked the door of a profound wisdom more than 5000 years old. Each time I brought myself to my mat, I discovered something new about myself and life. Each time I read an ancient scripture, I was humbled by how much I do not know. Each time I entered the class, I felt blessed being surrounded by wonderful souls who strive to be a light in this world. And I learned constantly.
So, how do I answer what yoga is to me? The incredible thing about this answer is it is going to be ever-changing and evolving as I deepen my practice. But for now, I have a few reflections. If you are considering going deep into yoga and it is more than just a physical practice for you, keep reading.
What I have learned through my journey:
Yoga is much more than Lululemon outfits and cool acrobatic poses.
I remember not feeling “enough” in certain yoga classes. Either I wasn’t able to do a difficult pose named as an exotic animal, or I felt like I didn’t look good holding a pose. When scrolling through Instagram, I was overwhelmed by gorgeous looking acrobatic yogis, thinking I could never be like them. Guess what, I just learned I don’t have to be. Learning the real meaning and purpose of yoga set me free from those expectations and disappointments. It reinforced what I knew to be true: each body is unique and beautiful the way it is. And yoga honors that.
Just like me, a lot of people with different bodies, ages, and socio-economic groups seeing exercise focused yoga classes have the misconception that yoga is not for them. That is not true. Yoga is for anybody and everybody. It is a way of living. It is a tool to create a good life. It connects body, mind, and soul, so we can move through this life with ease and grace. It is finding our own edge over and over again, inviting us to dance in the intersection of daring and respecting our body and mind. It is a tool to embrace ourselves wherever and however we are. It is a path to enlightenment.
There are many paths and levels of yoga. Anybody can breathe and move their body with intention in Hatha Yoga. Even if you have a serious injury or disability, you can still practice yoga; maybe a Bhakti Yoga practice, which is love and devotion yoga, or Karma Yoga- being in service, may work for you. You can dive deep into Jnana Yoga by reading and teaching the wisdom of yoga.
My mind does not “get me there” and that is ok.
I have a super analytical mind. It is a blessing and a curse… Although it helped me achieve many great things so far, it has been an obstacle for me to let my intuition free or experience spirituality in a deeper sense. Every time I wanted to connect the dots, compare the teachings in one book to another, my teacher Allison smiled and told me it just doesn’t work that way. She said “Let it float; maybe you’ll understand tomorrow, maybe years later. It is ok either way.”
At first, this made me uncomfortable. I thought there has got to be a logic. My mind should be able to decompose and compose all I have learned. How else I was going to learn? Yet, the more I acknowledge that my mind is a limited tool cluttered by my personal stories and abilities, the more I seem to open myself to something more than sheer human intelligence. It is the intelligence in nature and our bodies. To this day, humankind has not grasped it fully. However, we do see and feel it in the eyes of a child, in a serene sunset, in deep meditation, or looking at the boundless sky at night. It is humbling and awe-inspiring. When we let go of our mind’s struggle to grasp, we listen in and let that divine intelligence come through us.
So, I started enjoying letting my mind just hang out with the information, without trying to understand it to experience the knowledge beyond. I highly recommend it for analytical humans like me.
Uncertainty is inevitable, why not be ok with it…
This is related to the previous point. We all rely on our minds to prepare us for future and to feel safe. Although we can never foresee what’s going to happen, we are constantly trying to know and plan. It is a waste of energy if you think about it. What if we put more energy into living and appreciating what we have today and trusting our ability to figure out as we go?
Yoga teaches us to be present. It helps body and mind relax into uncertainty. It equips us to change what we can’t accept and accept what we can’t change. It provides us with the big picture, where the little human sufferings and worries do not matter so much.
Aversion and attachment are the opposite sides of the same coin.
Through yoga practice, I realized many limiting concepts and labels that I had thought I created to liberate myself. For instance, I had a strong resistance to label the divine intelligence/universe as the creator or god. Thousands of Hindu gods and goddess with real pictures? What? No thanks.
Now, I have a different lens. Although I still don’t belong to any religion, I understand how it can serve. The image or personification of god/universe can help ease the mind, preparing the individual to access beyond the mind. This is called Isvara Pranidhana in yoga, which is surrendering to god. It is acknowledging human limitations and building trust in the unknown. So, if an intricate and crazy looking image of a goddess helps me do that, I am cool with that.
This is just an example. There are countless examples I avoid or resist, thinking that it makes me free of attaching to that concept. Resisting to eat that desert to feel free of the urge, living a nun life to be free from wanting a relationship, or forcing “must and shoulds” into my life…What I must realize is resistance creates stronger focus on that concept, which very similar to being attached. Once it does not matter, then I am free. My life is not driven by it. I can have it or not. Now, I see that true freedom from attachment comes from embracing it all instead of resisting.
Learn how to let my persona just be and dedicate myself to getting to know who I really am.
One of the best gifts my teacher gave me is being an example of a person who can fully embrace herself/himself. She didn’t have to pretend, act it out, worry about how she appears. She just is. She is fully this being, called Allison Dennis, who has preferences, quirks, boundaries, flaws, as well as a unique beauty, intelligence, and diligence. Her way of accepting herself reflected onto her teachings, creating space for diversity, imperfection, and fluidity.
Thanks to her being herself, I felt like I can be myself. And OMG, what a relief!
I started seeing the image/the persona I created in this life. Oh, how I tried so hard to make her better… Realizing that she was just an image opened up for me to explore who I really am beyond the image. This created an extraordinary intimacy within me, a deep curiosity and non-judgmental look within. I saw we can see and appreciate our “person,” instead of identifying with that all the time. There is so much more to who we really are, and we can only find it by embracing every aspect of ourselves. This is also instrumental in seeing others as more than who they appear to be and appreciating their true self. As a result, we create remarkable space and compassion in any relationship.
True passion and purpose are revealed when we ask, “How can I serve?”
I always felt content about my career path, but I found myself questioning what my true purpose is over and over again. I thought some people are just born with burning passion, while others just don’t have that. I thought I was one of those people who just did what they are good at. Well, this changed with yoga.
During my meditations, I started asking what my purpose is. I shifted the focus from “me” to “us.” I contemplated how I might serve. I kept reminding myself that there are so many things that I could create and give in this life, but there’s got to be one that would give me joy and satisfaction, as well as impact others profoundly.
One day, after a conversation with a friend, I started feeling a powerful clarity about the direction of my life. It was easy and simple. It just emerged effortlessly, pushing away the fear and the doubt. All of a sudden, I knew what I want to dedicate myself to.
It is too early to talk about what it is, but I can tell that I know I want to figure out a way to give back the knowledge and the tools I have been collecting through different experiences. It is about helping others to unlock their true potential and have a good life. Even knowing this much feels incredibly energizing. I am savoring this new discovery. I don’t feel hurried or worried to figure out the specifics; the discovery itself is groundbreaking….
There is an ocean of experiences and aha moments that I can’t fit in just one article. If you want to live your own version of it, I highly recommend finding a true yoga school and taking time to study it. If you are in North Carolina, Heart of Yoga is an amazing choice.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to Allison Dennis for her selfless dedication to teaching yoga and five wonderful women who shared this journey with me.