What does it mean to be free? Yoga can hold the key to rediscovering our personal freedoms. In time, the practice helps hone the liberties of our everyday lives. We loosen our grip as we realize that we can’t control everything. Throughout this journey the ways we react to challenges and handle situations begins to change, as old parts of ourselves that no longer serve us begin to fall away. Yoga is a celebration of the freedom we experience in our minds, bodies, hearts and souls. Our perceptions expand as we acknowledge that we are all connected to something greater—to the great cosmic whole.
Here are four ways that yoga preserves our sovereignty and reminds us of the power in our potential.
Yoga as Rebellion
To be a yogi means to take part in a peaceful rebellion. Yoga and mindfulness have now transcended obscurity and seeped into the mainstream. What it means to be a modern yogi—to lead an alternative and mindful life in today’s world—is not just about designer yoga pants and mala beads, chanting and meditating for peace, or quitting your job to be a yoga teacher. Those who flock to this path do so because how life was once perceived is challenged instantaneously. There is no turning back.
The deeper we dive into this practice, the more we question what we know about ourselves and our life’s purpose. To be a yogi means to go against the status quo of what we think we should look like, or should do with our lives. We rebel against the norm—against what our families may have expected us to do with ourselves and our careers. Our yoga gives us the ability to stay true to our own path; to march to the beat of our own drum as we pursue our most cherished dreams. Yogis don’t just join a rebellion… they lead it.
Yoga as Liberation
It is through yoga that a detached awareness as an observer of the mind is developed over time. We begin to understand and accept that our thoughts—when put into action—create our reality. But still, it is easy to fall back into the habit of projection into the future with anxiety, or ruminating over the past which can lead to depression.
By continuing to practice the art of paying attention to the present moment, however, we liberate ourselves from the confines of the mind. We free ourselves from the shame we may have spent a lifetime holding in both our minds and bodies. We cut the psychic chords of limiting beliefs about ourselves that hold us back from our dreams, because we come to realize through mind, body, and spirit that we are capable of miracles. Yoga is an emancipation from the shackles of our negativity; our shadow self. It is through this liberation that we become lighter and less weighed down by the past—we become comfortable and confident in our own skin. We love and accept ourselves exactly as we are.
Yoga as Independence
We live in a paradox: a world that is hyper-connected and isolating at the same time. Many of us spend so much of our precious time living through our handheld screens in an attempt to feel connected to this “global village” of ours, that the most important connection can often fall by the wayside: the connection to the Self. We forget how to listen. But yoga is a direct line back to that union: the yoke of mind and body that fuses together in communion with the divine. Our inner “Self” is our best friend who many of us may have a tendency to mistreat as though we were in an abusive relationship. We can become empty inside and lonely, and turn to coping mechanisms like co-dependence on others to fill that void or worse—to substance abuse.
But in coming home to our “Selves” through yoga, we realize each and every time that we are indeed enough as is. We become so confident in our solitude that owning our independence becomes exciting, rather than uncomfortable or scary. We relish in our alone time and use it as an opportunity to create, to reflect, to practice self-care. It this epiphany that makes us aware of the fact that our inner relationship is all we’ve really got—and that in turn, our outer relationships can truly start to blossom and flourish. Our bonds strengthen because we love ourselves wholly. By relinquishing our grip on co-dependence we can lead a blissfuly independent life.
Yoga as Freedom
Our freedom is a gift. And for anyone who has been blessed with total autonomy, it is a gift that is so often taken for granted. We forget that our good fortune may have happened by luck or chance, and ignore the abundance of opportunities at our disposal. We obsess over what we do not have, what we have not accomplished, and how we will not be happy nor complete nor fulfilled until we meet certain standards. We longingly compare ourselves to the status, success, fame or celebrity of others, instead of relishing in how far we’ve come with the hand we’ve been dealt.
Worse yet, we can make the mistake of believing that everyone is born with the same opportunities—that everyone has the ability to manifest their dreams. We are wrong when we forget the limiting beliefs of that perception. Syrian refugees or the “Lost Boys” of South Sudan were not born into freedom and safety. Ongoing civil war and conflict zones are not ripe with opportunity—only destruction and despair. The real truth about the scarcity of abundance is that it’s an important reminder to us all to be grateful for what do we have. By practicing gratitude for our liberties, our talents and abilities, for a roof over our head at night, for clean water and healthy food to nourish our bodies, we are reminded of blessings that ought not be taken lightly. The moment we lose sight of all we have to be grateful for, we take our myriad freedoms for granted.
As a spiritual practice, yoga broadens our perceptions to dissolve any self-imposed boundaries or culturally engrained limiting belief systems we may hold about the world. We become more expansive—we begin to look outside of ourselves and question everything. That’s when we begin to connect to whatever may resonate as a higher power or divine source, and to the interconnectivity of how the universe works as a whole. But ultimately, it is our connection to all living beings that matters most in this lifetime. When we are connected, our egos subside and humility steps in to run the gamut of what it means to be human.
By practicing gratitude, we become the greatest versions of ourselves we can be. We empower our freedoms and make the most of our experience in the short time we have on this planet. We become large instead of small; we participate in service and give back to the world. In taking charge as leaders of this peaceful rebellion, we as yogis liberate ourselves from negativity. Our independence cultivates connectivity; our freedom as a way of life in service to those less fortunate.
To be a yogi is to be the light that shines in the darkness.
Andrea Rice is a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, SONIMA, NY Yoga+Life, mindbodygreen and other online publications. You can connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, and on her website.