When I first started practicing yoga, I never thought it would invite me to look at the stories I tell myself, allow me to dismantle my life, and question everything I ever thought. When we hear the word yoga it can spark a wide range of different images or thoughts. Some may think of yoga as sitting and meditating, others may envision flexible bodies, or perhaps images of people in impossible poses and getting their bodies in pretzel like postures haunt your memory. All of these examples are forms of yoga.
Yoga is a mindfulness practice that at times feels like we are being dragged through the dirt. Yet, this process of going through the mud can leave us feeling refreshed, while teaching us love and self-acceptance. Why is this?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj, meaning “to yoke" or “to unite”. What is it that we are trying to unite? On a very basic level it could be joining our breath with our movement when in a yoga class. Or perhaps it could be to join our induvial consciousness into the vast web of the Universal consciousness, creating perfect harmony of the individual to the cosmos. The latter example seems a bit out of reach for me at the moment. Yoga, to me, is to unite myself with the truest, purest aspect of myself; we can call this the spirit, consciousness, soul... the word used is not important to me, what is important is trying to understand who I am behind the labels or stories I tell myself or the stories people tell me about myself.
In a yoga class we join our movement and breath together, moving in dynamic ways with the inhale and exhale. As we breathe and move, we may find ourselves in these unique moments of meditation, where we are not thinking, but completely present in the moment. That is called presence. The stories about ourselves fall to the side as we are fully immersed in the practice. This is where the magic lives. When we remove ourself from the stories, we find these moments where we can maybe catch a glimpse of who we are... nameless, no labels, just simply being.
What happens when we remove the labels and stories we become so attached to?
That is where Yoga Sutra 1.2 comes into play. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali could be called the “authorized text on yoga”. Sutra 1.2 reads, Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah. Roughly translating to: Yoga is the modification or the fluctuations (twisting) of the mind stuff. This is my favorite sutra because it teaches us to untwist or become aware of all that occurs in the mind, and begin unraveling our narrative to see things as they truly are.
Perhaps we may no longer know who we are if we don’t identify with labels or stories. What would happen to me if I began to untwist my identity? What if I didn’t identify as a queer, gay, male, hairdresser, yoga instructor who is introverted, a bit shy at first, and has a very active, ‘go get it’ attitude? Who would I be if I stopped telling myself I’m not good enough to be loved, I’m too skinny, I’m too feminine, or I’m not attractive? What would happen if I asked myself, “How am I not myself?” Removing these stories and labels is a challenge, but by removing them, maybe I will be able to see who I truly am.
The best quality of yoga is that it does not judge us for who we are. It doesn’t matter if you are man, woman, non-binary, fat, thin, black, white, gray, gay, straight, transgender, Christian, Jewish, 10 years old or 100! Yoga meets you wherever you are at. As we practice, we learn that our practice is very personal and that it doesn’t matter if you can wrap your leg behind your head. It’s just a story and the stories and labels help others understand where we ‘fit’ into this world. However, the longer we practice we learn these labels don’t tell us anything about who we are in our purest form. We practice and learn that we are nothing but energy, love, and life. We represent life and death. We begin to understand that we are perfect exactly as we are, flaws and all. We begin to accept who we are as individuals and who we are in the world. We begin to understand the vast interconnectedness of us all.
Yoga is the door into self-acceptance, self-love, and self-understanding. Yoga may be the door but we have to be dedicated to step through the door every day. In creating the self-discipline to show up on our mat we invite the beauty of love, life, and self-recognition into our life. By practicing daily, we learn to love ourselves, flaws and all. It can be a challenge some days. To quote the running monkey in the Netflix show, Bojack Horseman, “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier, but you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part, but it does get easier.”
I wish I could tell you how we learn to love and accept ourself through yoga. But like I said earlier, our yoga practice is very personal. We may all find ourselves in the same place of learning to love and accept who we are, but how we get there varies from person to person.
At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own happiness and what we want our life to look like. I can only speak from my experience, I will say creating a daily yoga practice has allowed me to untwist my perceptions on myself and the world, which at times is frightening. Yoga has given me the freedom to accept myself where I am, which changes daily. Yoga has taught me that I am perfect in my nature, that the labels and stories are a part of me, but not my identity. Most of all, yoga has taught me how to love myself, to love others, and to understand that we all are love in our purest nature.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF HAIR
The Geography of Hair is devoted to share experiences and stories in cosmetology and how it has affected people, myself, or us as a society.