A Life of Gratitude

Only with gratitude can our hearts take flight.

In the beginning of each asana practice I first work to settle my nerves. I calm my thoughts and begin to let go and just before opening my eyes I say a prayer of gratitude for this body, this life, and this practice.

The beauty of the Ashtanga method is that it is a set sequence, a constant, and the only variable when we arrive is ourselves. Whatever we bring to our mat is what shows up in our practice for that day. Whether it be physical ailments or ability, insecurity, shame, pride, or self-judgment, it will show up. How we choose to handle it when it does is then also up to us.

For many years my practice felt very heavy. I chose to ignore that feeling of heaviness by just skimming the surface as I moved with my breath. I wouldn’t let myself go very deep or try very hard. I only did what felt fun to do and ignored all of the rest. I had all the excuses lined up if I was ever faced with the idea of going deeper but for the most part, I simply avoided it.

This is why the guidance of a teacher and being part of a community is so important. We can move into postures and do all of the things we think we’re supposed to do but having a teacher who knows me and my habits and a community who can bear witness and see through the stories I choose to hide behind is essential to growth.

With guidance and when I was finally willing to go deeper I was faced with some very difficult truths. I had never felt so broken as very old and buried wounds were brought up to the surface. For one thing, I finally realized that I first began my Ashtanga practice already injured and unknowingly kept tearing myself up. Simultaneously, I had to face very dark emotional and mental truths about myself in order to see my physical body clearly so I could begin to heal.

What that looked like for me just earlier this year was to start my practice over from the very beginning, as if I was a brand new yoga student, because I was. As only Vajrasana, a seated position sitting on my heels, was accessible to me for the first week or so of coming back, I had to start with stillness. I came into the mysore room, set up my mat, and sat in silence, eyes closed, in contemplation of my current state. I watched all the thoughts and feelings rise to the surface and stayed with them all, just breathing through it.

This experience was in complete contrast to the year or so before when I spent many, many, many moments in this space at Hamsa that we call home flooded with tears. Clutching myself, trying to breathe, unable to speak, and sobbing so loudly that it bounced off of the walls, and echoed down the hall. I fully invested in pushing myself forward, creating space for me to be vulnerable and for all of that to be seen by my teachers and those who practiced around me. I understand now, it is simply what I needed to finally open my eyes.

As I transitioned from a practice of seated meditation to finding movement again I went in with that same intention of seeing clearly. I began an open communication with my body regularly checking in. I went in with the intention of finding the subtle strength and grounding required in each posture and each transition not taking any sensation for granted. I allowed everything that needed to come up to surface with ease because I no longer judged myself for what I saw.

I am still on this journey of recovery now. What’s important to recognize is that it’s not that I no longer feel heavy in my practice or that I don’t have experiences that feel difficult or challenging. The difference now is that I can experience the challenges and have learned to adapt. I do not waste my energy on creating stories around the heaviness or pain I experience. I do not feed into anything that makes me want to hide, ignore, make up excuses, or avoid feeling whatever I have to feel to live and practice more truthfully.

I do not judge what comes up, I do not compare myself to others or to my past, or attach myself to what I want to look like in the future. Through this practice I have found and finally understand Santosha, the practice of contentment and in essence gratitude. The ability to recognize all that we have, all that we are, and embrace every part of ourselves no matter what it looks like to others or some made up ideal. The ability to not only accept and appreciate the memories and things about ourselves and our lives that feel “good” or be the way we think it’s “supposed to be” but truly all of it.

Every moment, every feeling, all of the darkness and all of the light makes us whole and who we are. When we step onto our mat or out our front door, when we begin and end our day, whatever we are faced with, and we choose to reflect on that which we are grateful we shift our perspective away from illusion and darkness and doubt. When we live a life of gratitude, peace and contentment is what fills our hearts. This is what leads to liberation and allows us to truly soar.

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