Taking Yoga Beyond the Body

Here I am, on my annual trip to visit my light and love: My sister, her husband and their two spirited children in the suburb of San Francisco. Everything here is so different from my life in Thailand – the food, organic cheeses and breads locally bought from summer farmer markets, the rhythm of life, with the kids having a huge influence of when we eat and sleep, and the sharing of a modest suburban abode with family provides a sharp contrast to the big city vibe of Bangkok. Though some might say spending so much time with family with small children is a chore, I find it quite therapeutic and that’s precisely why I keep coming back for months at a time.

yoga To actually cook, clean and take such ownership of life are refreshing alternatives to the typical Thai mentality of paying someone to do such things for you on a regular basis. While definitely a blessing, there are moments when I ponder if life means more when there is active participation in the details. I am very blessed to have yoga be the focus of my day and when I am teaching, the top priority is to get on the mat and practice. When I am here with my family, however, the priority of the day becomes about the kids: Did the 1-year old just eat crayons? When is his 5-year old sister expected at her swim lesson? Often, such a flurry of activities consumes much of the day and the time to sit and relax does not happen until the children are in bed.

I wish I could say that practicing yoga would be the first thing on my mind after a long day of taking care of the household. But really, all I want to do is to have a home-cooked dinner with my sister with a glass of good California wine and just talk. Somehow, such basic human contact feels more rejuvenating than an hour of the most intense asana-focus class.

Many ancient texts say that Hatha is the “basic” type of yoga. The attention on physical body control is designed to build a platform for the more evolved pursuits. We prepare the body so that it is strong, true, but it would be a mistake to think that yoga stops with just a fit physique. As is often the case, theory is useless until one puts it to practice, so I am grateful that my almost daily asana practice is giving me the chance to gracefully surrender to the pace of a busy household, dirty diapers and all. There are endless opportunities to practice compassion – when the kids wake up crying in the middle of the night, when the 1-year old hides your cell phone, when weekends are all about entertaining the little ones – in fully participating in the details of living, I have a greater of appreciation of life.

Early on in my yoga pursuit, I had little tolerance for weaklings. I submitted my body and mind through increasingly challenging practice, chasing for an external appearance of a god and an inner discipline of a martyr. I’ve come to realize that being human is just fine, and it’s the blind chase for a synthetic ideal that does more harm than good. Life can be about flow, ease and grace if we welcome them, or we can attract the polar opposite if we are disconnected with our true, authentic self.

Many different energy workers that I’ve worked with point to a specific area underneath the left side of my ribcage, around the upper abdomen, as a spot that is not as vibrant as it could be. This area, which is the location of the third, or manipuara chakra, is often associated with our personality and ego: It is about how we relate and understand ourselves.

To quote Caroline Myss, author of “Anatomy of the Spirit – The Seven Stages of Power and Healing”:

“How we feel about ourselves, whether we respect ourselves, determines the quality of our life, our capacity to succeed in business, relationships, healing and intuitive skills. Self understanding and acceptance, the bond we form with ourselves, is in many ways the most critical spiritual challenge we face. In truth, if we do not like ourselves, we will be incapable of making healthy decisions. Instead, we will direct all of our personal power for decision-making into the hands of someone else; someone whom we want to impress, or someone before whom we think we must weaken ourselves to gain physical security. People who have a low sense of self esteem attract relationships and occupational situations that reflect and reinforce this weakness. Nobody is born with healthy self esteem. We must earn this quality in the process of living as we face our challenges one at a time.”

I am being a little bit more easy on myself on this trip. Instead of indulging in guilt because I do not make daily visits to local yoga studios, I am finding my yoga off the mat and in the most unlikely of places: In the arms of my young niece and nephew, in a late-night pizza indulgence with my sister, and in letting go of what I need to do and simply accepting what is.

May you love yourself more everyday with less effort. Om Shanti Om.

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