Yoga's ultimate goal is liberation: freedom from worry, comparison, fear of future, being weighed down by the past. Yoga Poses free the body, over time, of restriction and limitation. The practice - daily, steady practice - liberates the mind.
But sometimes getting liberated takes us right, straight into the territory that weighs us down. Sometimes this process brings us face to face with what we're scared of, embarrassed about or shrinking from.
Take me, this morning. I'm finishing a major project I've been working on for three years: a book about how to get started with yoga. The hardest thing for me to do this morning was to get on my mat - even though my space is newly cleaned, my morning was simple and everything is in place. I rolled out the mat. I stood at the top, finally, and realized I hadn't netied. I hadn't had my water. I hadn't practiced basic self-kindness and care.
I went and took care of those things. I came back. I felt frozen - like stage fright. I felt like I had to perform. It would be easy to make this about the book, but I've been here before. Have you been? Stuck, like you don't know what to do? Like you've never moved without instruction before? It was about how I was approaching my life, and yes, of course, it had to do with the book, since that is large in my life right now. But book projects and yoga mats are occasions for our habits - samskaras, in Sanskrit - to assert themselves... and for us to listen.
My samskara goes something like this: any time I'm putting something out into the world that represents my deepest offering, I shrink - not down, not in: up. Up into a tiny dot in my head. That tiny dot fancies herself the Protector and scans for threats (which are everywhere if you're looking for potential) and then strategizes a master and 2 backup plans for neutralizing or vanquishing each one.
Which takes me right out of the moment, out of my body and out of reality. So then, when I roll the mat out, the me that's practicing is performing for the tiny dot, who is awfully puffed up with how hard she's working to protect us from threats only she sees. The tiny dot doesn't think yoga practice is nearly as important as what she's up to and gets crazy judgey.
The first step in working with samskara is to be able to see them. The next is not to push them away. This is why it's so deeply important to step onto the mat every day. Daily practice builds in do overs, but it also brings safety and the ability to peek behind the curtain just a little bit each day. Standing off against our habits and fears only drives them deeper. But practice allows us to be more like water on stone: a flowing presence not asking for dramatic changes, only noticing, practicing kindness, even to the tiny dot.
Daily practice also gives us the experience of feeling the feelings that we don't allow to break through in the bustle of "getting things done" - and then walk away and actually get things done. And come back. The experience of peeking, maybe even hanging out with our habits and fears, and then experiencing our ability to effect things in the world before coming back, having another peek again, being curious and learning more - the cycle gently brings the self-importance of the habit or fear down to size and creates a container of awareness in which the gentle alchemy of transformation occurs.
So for me, this morning, practice was a process of expanding from that tiny dot in my head into my heart and belly, letting go of scanning for threats and getting see all the beauty around me, and feel the beauty of being embodied.
Mat fear, the feeling that keeps us from stepping onto the mat, that keeps manufacturing more things to do before we start, and reasons we don't have time, this feeling is melted by curiosity. Curiosity about what we feel and do not feel, and where we are not feeling (I wasn't feeling my arms and the back of my neck this morning, until I had done one Sun Salutation and invited myself to feel myself breathe) melts the fear that keeps the parts of ourselves from healing one another.
Mat fear is the number one enemy of daily practice. If you haven't practiced in a while, it may be hiding in the center of your tightly rolled mat. Unfurl that thing and let it out. Have a little monster hang out with it and be curious about all the reasons it says you can't. What do those things represent? What if you go do them? What if you don't? What if you just stood up right now and feel what it feels like to breath, then to lift your arms overhead? Why not? And what does that reason tell you about your habits?
Trust in the process of awareness. Trust your body. Trust curiosity without reaction. Let me know what you find.