Thoughts on my Practice: To Thine Own Self Be True....
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Shakespeare, Hamlet
Good old William must have been quite the yogi at heart, and maybe he did not ever think that he was. Lately, and without intending to, I seem to be channeling him every day. I don't recall that this has ever happened to me before. But, I'll let it be. There must be some message in it to behold and to treasure, for sure!
Now then, what is it that yogis can take from the above quote? What am I taking from it?
On the mat, this was one of the first things I came to understand: I can only be who I am at any given moment, while I practice. My body will do what it can, and if I apply all my attention and care to the exercise, it will do it the best it can. That is all. It is my contribution to my growth at that very moment. I honor it, accept it and savor it for whatever it is, right there, right then. Tomorrow will be another day. I live only in the Now of this posture, everything else falls away into Nirvana.... non-existence. I am talking to my body and it talks to me. I discover that the two sides of my body are not equally made: one is subtler and more bendable, the other stronger, but also more rigid. There is not such a big difference, but it is enough to be noticeable. I am alright with that. The human body is not symmetric naturally: We have one heart, and while it sits in the ribcage centered before the spinal column, it is somewhat inclined sideways, its tip pointing to the left ribcage. The liver sits on the right side, the spleen occupies the left, just to name a few organs. Of course, we also have organs in pairs, such as the kidneys, the eyes, ears.... but even so, they are not clones of each other, showing physical differences of size or orientation. All this to show that asymmetry is a natural phenomenon in our human body.
We can add to that the effects of living: sitting all day at our office desk, driving around in a car for hours, slumping forward while staring at the computer screen, standing without much movement in the same spot for hours, on hard and cold floors, and so on. We may also bear the scars of past and present traumas in our muscular and skeletal structures: old sports injuries, car and other accidents, disease – sometimes self-inflicted, as when we smoke or practice unhealthy eating habits for most of our lives.
Even seemingly “invisible” events leave their mark on us: the loss of a child, a parent or any other loved one, abusive life situations, where our trust has been betrayed, depression or other mental struggles.
We are the sum of all of these factors, and we need to honor that. To thy own self be true.
I had some terrible accidents before I was 20 years young. They all involved injuries to my spine. Luckily, my muscular condition was so strong that I survived all of them without breaking the spine. However, when I am on the mat, all these events beg to be remembered, as I feel a light terror each time I do a posture with a back bend. Physically, my back muscles hold on so tight that they don't want to hear anything about letting go. Mentally and emotionally, I struggle with terror at even the thought of bending myself over backwards. In the beginning of my practice, all this filled me with frustration on top of the terror that gripped me. Why can't I just do Camel pose? It looks so easy. I know it is easy, so why can't I just do it? There was no answer for these questions. But during Savasana, my mind simply rolled back the film to all these incisive events, when I found myself thrown into the air by a speeding car and landed head-first on the pavement, waking up from a coma in a hospital bed without knowing what got me there...., when a big guy jumped into my lower back while I was just in the middle of emerging from the deep end of the diving pool, ….when my car lost traction on a stormy autumn morning and went flying over the edge of the road, across a wide field, down a ravine and into a river, doing several somersaults before it got there, smashing my car flat into the shape of a pancake.... but each time, I survived. I am still here, with the deep-rooted memories of those days in my subconscious mind. I had forgotten about them before I started practicing yoga. They were tucked away in the lowest basement of my mind, where nobody, not even I, cared to venture.... ever. Now they are out in the open of my awareness again, and I want to acknowledge them for what they are, and for the scars they left. I can live with them and exist as I am. I can heal myself, given patience and time. As I have now acknowledged the existence of these things, I find that it was the first step to overcoming the trauma. I am beginning to befriend the back bends, a little more every time I do them. It now feels half good and half terrifying. I let both be, the half good and the half terrifying part of me. I tell both it's OK for them to reside in my heart and mind. But I do know what I want, and this is very important. I want to heal. So every time, I do a back bend, the balance shifts subtly further towards the 'feel whole' side, and leaves behind the 'feel terror' side.
The key is to say “I want”. I do not say “I should” or “I must” or “I have to”. There is a dimensional difference between these expressions. “I Want” will make it so, and it will be a process where time is needed, but there is time enough for all of our needs. We live for the purpose of healing ourselves from whatever it is we require to heal.
I want to be whole. And I want to experience the process which takes me there. Every day is good for its own subtle change. That is enough for me. To my own self, I am true.