Updated: Feb 15
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Maybe you came to yoga with mostly physical aspirations such as taking care of your body or getting stronger and more flexible. Perhaps you also had a slight inclination that it would reduce stress and increase your self-awareness. If you’re anything like me, this is probably the extent to which you imagined yoga to influence your life. You may even have felt averse to the whole “spirituality” of it. Believe me, I definitely did. I distinctly recall saying that I don’t want anything to do with that chakra and namaste stuff.
The thing I’ve come to realize, however, is that the “spirituality” of it isn’t some farfetched, hokey, woowoowaawaa baloney that only those far-gone, green-smoothie drinking, new-agey weirdos can appreciate. Hey, not judging if that’s you! I’m pretty sure some people would put me into that category and you know what, that is FINE BY ME because I’m just trying to do me as authentically as I can! (and for the record, I also swear by green smoothies, and definitely have my own brand of wierdo-ness).
In all seriousness though, the spirituality of yoga isn’t anything more than a path towards self-discovery. It’s an investigation of the self. A journey that once you begin creates so much momentum that shedding your old self takes on a life of its own.
Several months ago a student asked me something along the lines of “at what point did you find that yoga was about all this other stuff...the emotional and spiritual, because I just don’t see how yoga can do that for me.” Sound familiar?
Although I gave her an answer that felt honest in that moment, I’ve been thinking about how to answer this properly ever since, so here goes...
There isn’t really one moment that marks the transition from yoga as a workout to yoga as a work in, as they say. It’s more like unpacking a very big suitcase. You take one item out at a time and not necessarily in the exact order that you put it in. Some items are heavier and involve more strength to take out, while other items are lighter and easier to unpack. Sometimes you take an item out and spend a while looking at it before you put it aside and reach for a new item to unpack.
It can take a long time to unpack that suitcase, and you might even begin to ask yourself why you packed all this stuff in the first place. Did you really need it? As it dawns on you that you don’t really need some of these items you packed, you begin to ask yourself what would be a better fit. Eventually you may even buy yourself a new wardrobe that begins to feel more like you and then that gets packed into another suitcase only to be unpacked again on a later trip.
You see, the yoga or self-discovery journey, starts with a full suitcase. That’s you with all your STUFF. You know what stuff I’m talking about. Maybe you are even carrying one of those excess-weight suitcases they make you pay an extra fee for at the airport. Once you take the trip and begin to unpack that stuff you’re not just headed towards a new wardrobe, but a brand new suitcase, because somewhere along the way you realize that the trip you took turned you into a whole new you.
So what happens on this path towards self-discovery? Below I’m going to share 3 steps which we cycle through endlessly once we begin this yoga journey.
And just to make this trip extra fun, I’m going to give you a new hat to wear for each step of this journey!
1. Step into the role of Witness.
Put on your witness hat! At the start of your journey your task is to be in constant observation mode. Get out of your head and into your body. Begin tuning into your breath, internal sensations, energy, emotions, gut, instinct, and intuition. Imagine that you’ve just landed in a thick jungle and have to be really astute to sights, sounds, smells and whatever internal cues your body is giving you about your environment.
In yoga and meditation we tap into this role when we first step onto our mat and then keep this hyper-focus by coming back to the breath as often as possible. The more you practice sustaining this state of observation while you flow through a vinyasa sequence, passively hold a yin pose, or sit in quiet meditation, the more you train your mind and body to naturally, almost without even thinking, find this mode in whatever you do throughout your daily life.
So when does the transformational magic happen to earn you your second hat?
When the process of observation and awareness begin to reveal to you your inner compass, or that internal voice that belongs to nobody but you. This internal compass is all you need to navigate through that jungle. You can rely on this compass to keep you out of harm's way and show you the vast natural beauty around you. In essence, you begin to give yourself back a little bit of that authority that you gave up when you decided that someone else might know better what you should do.
Now that you have your compass you can begin to really explore this jungle with excitement and confidence.
2. Step into the role of Explorer.
Put on your explorer hat! The next stage of your journey involves using your compass to get into adventure mode and test the boundaries of your surroundings. Get excited about what you might discover behind that tree and this rock, but at the same time recognize when you need to pause and recharge so you don’t get ahead of yourself.
In yoga this mode is referred to as finding your edge. In other words, honing your balancing act of pushing forward and pulling back to become aware of your limit in any given pose or movement. This means your limit in flexibility, strength, and whatever is going on in your mind, emotions and energy. It’s an exciting place where there is space for both who you are and who you are becoming.
This means a space where there is both motion and stillness, action and surrender, yin and yang, giving and receiving, lead and follow, or however you want to describe the dance between these naturally opposing forces that when played right, become a beautifully harmonious symphony.
The longer you spend experiencing this mode on the mat, the more it becomes second-nature to harness it in your day-to-day life.
So when does the transformational magic happen that earns you your third hat?
When you stay committed to this exploration, curious about the process, and at the same time, unattached to the final destination. You don’t know where this adventure is going to lead to ultimately, but you have your reliable inner compass (your witnessing self), along with your explorer self, all guiding you in the only direction you need to go in: YOUR DIRECTION.
Once you begin to trust that you have the best guide you could ask for, you are ready for your third hat.
3. Step into the role of Creator.
Put on your creator hat! In this mode you realize that you are not just witnessing what is happening around you, nor are you hungerly exploring the terrain in search of your next discovery, you are instead creating the terrain itself. You are consciously choosing how that terrain will look, smell, and feel.
In yoga this is that moment on your mat when you feel the strongest connection to your true, fearless nature. Your circumstances don’t determine where you are going nor who you are. In fact, the circumstances don’t even matter, because there will just be new circumstances tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Haven’t you noticed that each day on your yoga mat is like a whole new ball game?
Instead, you are conscious of what lies beneath the circumstances and step into your full power to create the meaningful life you desire on and off your mat.
To bring this trip full circle, I want to go back to that question my student asked me, just in case I lost you somewhere along the way. So, how exactly does stretching and all that stepping your right foot forward and circling your arms above you stuff we do on the mat translate into self-discovery? You see, while you are pressing back to Down Dog or taking a Vinyasa, you are wearing your witness, explorer and occasionally even that creator hat. The chaturangas and up-dogs are really just an excuse to see how those hats fit.
I’ve used yoga as the dominant example for the self-discovery journey, but you can really apply these 3 steps to anything in life. Before I discovered yoga, although I was unaware of it, learning to dance Argentine Tango was very much my playground for self-discovery. Those of you who also dance know that your dance journey is just a microcosm of your life journey. Before tango it was learning to draw and paint that showed me this self-discovery path. I have no doubt that you can also find it in whatever activity you are passionate about exploring as long as you approach it as a witness, explorer and creator.
If you’d like to join me on the path towards self-discovery through yoga, I invite you to try my online studio membership for 7 days for free. Inside this membership you will find vinyasa and yin yoga classes, as well as related self-reflection exercises designed to guide you on your path towards self-discovery. I would be honored to be your guide and I can’t wait to see you on your mat!