“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” - Jason Crandell
Jason Crandell is right. If you are on a path of self-exploration or introspection, yoga can help you in your quest. The first thing yoga can tell you is how patient or determined you are. As a new student, you will might feel stiff, infexible or weak, or you may instantly feel like you are home, right where you are supposed to be. However you feel is okay! Yoga is something to be learned, to be discovered, over time. You never stop learning. Long-time practictioners will tell you they are still students, even after 20, 30, or more years. You will find that just when you think you have learned to relax and surrender to a pose, you will find a different, subtler aspect you did not know existed. And that is just the asana limb of yoga!
While yoga asana, the yoga poses, is one of the most advertised and studied aspect of yoga in the United States, it is only a small part of the whole that is yoga. Yoga philosophy, of which part is the eight limbs, or Ashtanga (meaning eight limbs, and not referring to the type of asana practice prescribed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois), allows you to learn even more about yourself than will just doing yoga asana (one of the eight limbs). For example, as you progress in your understanding of the concepts of asteya (non-stealing), you learn what stealing really is. Yes, it means to not take somethiing that is not freely given to you. One thing I learned about myself is that I interrupt people when they are speaking. That is a violation of asteya because I am stealing someone's opportunity to express him or herself, the opportunity for that person to shine. If you don't continue to practice yoga, or don't practice as often as you would like, you may feel you are stealing from yourself the opportunity for better health of mind and body. These philosophical principles are many-layered.
Meditation, the limb named dhyana, provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about yourself, beyond and including the physical discomfort of sitting for long periods of time. How do you deal with that discomfort? Do you stop or do you persevere? Do you find a way to be comfortable? Do you sit with the discomfort and see what comes up with it in your meditation? Do you get angry or give up, thinking meditation is not right for you or that you aren't doing it right? Do you ask a teacher or long-time student for advice? There are many ways to deal with discomfort during meditation! If you ask a teacher or long-time student for advice, you may learn ways to be comfortable, to relax and find ease in your practice. It may help you to know that I have been meditating since 1976. I still have days where it takes time to relax and concentrate on my meditation technique, and that is normal. No one is perfect. Some of us may sit there and look so still and relaxed, but it may be taking more time to rein in our brains. When that happens, we may ask ourselves what is going on. We can use that information, while letting our meditation be what it is that day. One key lesson about meditating is learning how to let your meditation be what it is at any point in time. That is one of many ways we learn about ourselves through meditation.
One of my favorite ways to learn about myself is to journal about my daily yoga and meditation practice. I keep my journal next to my mat as I practice. Sometimes I stop and write during my practice, recording how my practice feels in my body and/or mind, the thoughts and feelings that pop into my head, or a new way to describe a pose in class. I also write about my meditations and if I chanted how that felt or why I chose a particular chant. There are as many things to write as there are pieces of sand in the River Ganges!
You don't have to be a writer to journal your yoga and meditation practice. You can jot down a few words, list the poses you did, write as if talking to a friend, draw a picture. It doesn't matter if you don't write in complete sentences. You are the only person who will read your journal, unless you give it to someone else. You can keep one journal, with your practice notes and regular journal entries, or you can keep two journals. I started with seperate journals, but soon blended them into one.
One rainy day, when you are snuggling up with a cup of tea and a blanket, get our your practice journal and read it. You may be amazed at what you find out about yourself. You may be more patient or observant than you think you are. You may have used your experiences on the mat to resolve a deeper issue that you hadn't thought of for a while.
So, questions for the comment section. What leads you to self-discovery? Do you keep a yoga and/or meditation practice journal? I am interested, so please comment below. :)