Amy Champ took the Wanderlust Voyager Immersion program at Wanderlust Squaw Valley and wrote about her experiences. To learn more about the Wanderlust Yoga Teacher Training program, click here.
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In ancient times, yoga rishis (forest-dwelling philosophers) debated about the nature of life and reality itself. Some believed life was an illusion (maya) and that yoga and meditation would take us out of suffering from life, whereas others believed it was real and that everything we do counts for the afterlife.
Regardless of how we choose to see it, life is definitely a journey full of surprises and adventures all along the way. How we practice, and how we see ourselves, make a big difference in how we get to have this experience.
One of the things that we learn in yoga is that our idea of the self is limited. Yoga is a practice of gradually bringing our small sense of self to become yoked to, or one with, the larger Self of the world outside of us. How we choose to interpret that can take many forms. For example:
- I am the same as other people
- I am the unity of consciousness
- I am a participant in the biosphere
While attempting to envision our connection to an idea of “the beyond,” or the divine principle, can seem a bit disconcerting at first, it can actually be viewed as a straightforward technique to free ourselves from our own individual limitations.
To really become a full participant in life, we need to bypass anxiety and worry. When we are fully in the flow of our vinyasa practice, moving from up dog to down dog, flowing along on our mat, we forget about all of our usual problems for a moment. Yoga is actually a trick to get us to feel what that feels like. Then, when we bring our yoga off the mat and into our life, we can experience that effortless flow consistently throughout our work, play and family time.
In the yogic principle of neti neti, we repeat the mantra “I am not this body. I am not this mind” as a way of releasing ourselves from the motivations of ego which tend to get in the way of thinking more clearly, strongly and wisely.
By releasing our initial idea of ourselves (prakriti–our nature, who we see ourselves as), we can connect with the higher organizing principle of the universe (what the yogis called purusha). Rather than thinking of it as something you are giving up, it is better to think of something you are joining with. In yoga, we seek “union” in order to help ourselves, to acknowledge that we are simply human, and that sometimes we need to be lifted up.
When we get into that space of connectedness, we also feel free to get lost in whatever it is we are doing. This is truly living.
By letting go of ego, you can truly become one with your yoga mat, and fully embody the poses you are working on. You can enjoy whatever it is you are doing, because you have let go of your own idea of yourself, so that the activity–be it driving a car or painting the Sistine Chapel–is all-consuming.
Eventually, the tension of maya disappears. Yes it’s an illusion, and this makes it playful, but it’s also very real and you can learn to let yourself to breathe through it and melt into it.
The little self has slowly faded away, so that “you” don’t worry. You are free to engage yourself in the work, the play, and everything else in between. You can lose yourself and feel okay about that. It is at this point that you are fully alive.
Dr. Amy Champ is a scholar, yogini and writer dedicated to all the simple things in life. Studying yoga and ordinary people, her work is motivated by supporting women’s health and bringing people together in community.