As Independence Day quickly approaches (next week already?!) I have spent some time reflecting on the concept of freedom. Specifically, that I live in a place and time period where I enjoy many freedoms. Some of these freedoms are available to me because of the hard work and sacrifice of others, for which I have deep gratitude. And over the last few years, as I committed more regularly to my yoga practice, I started to realize that there is another kind of freedom that I can give myself if I choose to work at it. Through my exploration of this ancient practice, I realized yoga’s biggest gift to me is freedom of mind.
One of the Yoga Sutras (written guidelines to help explain the aim of a yoga practice) states that “Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind.” Basically, it means that sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed with thoughts, worries, feelings, etc. And when we’re in a mental tailspin, it becomes hard to recognize that thoughts are not who we are. They seem to take over, spilling into every facet of life. Getting off this mental merry-go-round isn’t always easy, and that’s where yoga can help.
When I first studied to become a yoga teacher, I learned that yoga is more than just stretching in different poses, however, that is a wonderful place to start. Stepping onto the mat helps us focus in on our bodies and breath. Being attentive to the sensations in our muscles and of breath moving in and out of us means that we don’t have as much mental space for negative thoughts to enter. For many people, a physical yoga practice becomes a gateway for developing a meditation practice, and it is in trying to do this that I have experienced some of the most freeing moments in my life. Freedom from worry. Freedom from doubt.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Yoga (the practice of freeing myself from the overwhelm in my mind) is a daily effort. And one that I fail at more often than not. But, when I do have those moments of clarity, I notice the shift.
In those moments I don’t take things so personally, I don’t judge myself, I don’t get anxious, and I don’t need things to be a certain way. When I experience that freedom, it’s like a cloudy sky parting to let a sliver of sunlight through. The sun was always there, even if I couldn’t see it. This practice reminds me that at my core, I am the Sun, and that all my thoughts are just clouds passing by.