“The most important thing is practice in daily life that is how we can gradually get to know the true value of whatever teaching we follow.
What we need is a good heart, a disciplined mind and a healthy body. We will not transform ourselves merely by making wishes, but through working hard over a long period of time.”
The Dalai Lama, in the Foreword to “Core of the Yoga Sūtras” by B.K.S. Iyengar.
I recently discovered a photograph of myself in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) from 2012. Although not the beginning of my yoga practice, the photograph does represent the beginning of my deep dive into exclusively practicing and studying Iyengar Yoga. I practiced yoga as a teen and into my twenties in various styles all of which had some focus on alignment. Alignment and body mechanics always fascinated me. Growing up competitively riding horses, I had an appreciation for big effects small refinements can have. In the beginning of my yoga practice, I was always met with pain. I thought that was what yoga was: it just hurt. I was so weak in my upper body when I began that I could not even hold myself up in Adho Mukha Svanasana. I remember feeling like my arms were just going to break and give out on me. My wrists throbbed. There was no stability in my joints. At the time of this picture, I had been practicing daily for six years (not in the Iyengar method). I suffered from debilitating neck pain, migraines, and vertigo, among other things, but I remember thinking I had accomplished a great feat in being able to do the pose with some sense of steadiness.
Now, another six years have gone by. I have dedicated my life and now my teaching to the lineage of Yogacarya B.K.S Iyengar. Through disciplined practice and the incredibly skillful guidance of my teacher, progress has come. When I look at this photograph, I see so much congestion in the pose, so much pain. There is no extension and no expansion. I am just holding myself in position. There is no dynamism, no energy. Guruji teaches that even the skin must be involved in the asana. Our awareness and intelligence must extend to and beyond the skin and edges of the body. During this time I intellectually understood the actions of the asana, but you can see in the pose that intelligence within the body had not been developed yet. My awareness was not there. “The moment you bring attention, you are creating something, and creation has life and energy (Iyengar, Light on Life).
It is always important to pause, to reflect, to observe oneself (svyadyaya) and in asana understand the ground that is gained. Why is it so easy for us to lose perspective? To get caught in the achieving, striving mind? We must find contentment (santosha)with the little progress we can make each day. By no means am I saying my present day Adho Mukha Svanasana is perfect. I see where I need to improve, and where my intelligence and awareness still has not reached. I have a long way to go. What keeps me going and inspired however is not the outer form as shown in these photographs, but what has come to my interior world as a result of my practice. I no longer suffer from regular, debilitating migraines and vertigo. My neck pain has been reduced by at least 50%, and most importantly I am stronger and feel more integrated. Through continuing to work with my weaknesses, honoring them, studying them, and through some trial and error, I use my practice as a tool to alleviate pain.
I am grateful for the discovery of this photograph, for the opportunity to pause and reflect. Without reflection, how can we learn? After all,“the art of yoga lies in the acuity of observation” (BKS Light on Life). We must always reflect on our actions, and continue our practices with faith and courage. We must remember where we started from, but never give up on where we want to go within ourselves. I am grateful Guruji’s life work has taught me this: to find a home in my yoga practice. A place where I always belong. A place that reaches beyond the limitations of the mind and touches the deeper places of my being. A place where I find strength and renewal.