The Purpose of Yoga: The Lifelong Practice of Mastery of the Self.

I am a yoga teacher. Yoga is my craft, my calling and my life’s work. My students range in age from 11 to 88. Some can stand on their heads and hands, and some need assistance getting up and down from a chair. Some ride their bikes to class and some shuffle in with their walkers. They may range in age and physical ability, but they all have something in common – they are devoted and dedicated to the practice of yoga asana.

In the documentary SOUL, a few of the world’s master chefs share their craft and a window into their lives. One of the chefs interviewed in the film, defined what it is to be a master (paraphrased): A master is someone who is able to perceive the imperceivable and then refine it and improve upon it.

A well-respected Japanese chef remarked that out of 10,000 chefs at the culinary institute, only one will become a master. Why? Their inherent talent is part of that, but there’s something else – unwavering commitment and perseverance, an openness and curiosity to learn, and the understanding that mastery is not a destination, rather, a lifelong journey.

I’ve heard yoga teachers referred to as Masters of Yoga. Yet, it is not a modality or a craft to be mastered. The mastery is in the humility of self-awareness that every time I teach, or get on a mat, it is the beginning, again. There is always something new to learn and to discover. And, if I’m focused, I may have a masterful moment of unifying all parts of myself, albeit fleeting as the air escapes and new air enters.

I explain to my students that they are the experts of their bodies, the masters of their universe when they choose to be disciplined and devoted to their practice. Their commitment to the practice will strengthen their ability to know themselves and see themselves within each breath, honing their awareness to perceive the subtle shifts in their psyche and body.

The body and the mind are in a constant state of flux and evolution. Each person, each body provides me, as a teacher, with a fresh opportunity to discover new tools, new cues, new ways of adapting the postures to the person. I am on a quest to learn as they do, and guide them into a mastery of their proprioceptive, intellectual and emotional awareness.

Being a yoga teacher is an honor, a sacred responsibility to support each practitioner as they work diligently to perceive the imperceivable, becoming the 1 in 10,000. I am their witness as they orchestrate the fullness of the inhale and the hollowness at the bottom of the exhale; as they experience the gentle sensation of air sifting through the hairs on their arms as they reach up, and the gumminess of the rubber under their fingertips as they touch down on the mat.

Although I did not have the honor of studying or practicing in his presence while he was alive, B.K.S. Iyengar is the teacher whom I resonate with the most. He had a pragmatic, tangible method of teaching yoga, and in that, defined its purpose. These words are inscribed on the wall of my studio:

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”

Yoga is not easy. It’s not meant to be. There are days it can be downright difficult and frustrating, grueling at times, and yet, it is the way to discovering the cure to the suffering we don’t need to put up with, and a solution, revealing the tools to cope with the suffering we can’t get rid of.

Yoga provides a path, a roadmap to healing and acceptance.  Yoga is the practice of mastering one’s discernment, to decipher the difference between what suffering is curable and how to cure it, and to accept the suffering that is incurable and how to cope with it. This is how we become the masters of ourselves, the 1 in 10,000.  This is the purpose of the practice of yoga.

Happy International Yoga Day!

~Rebecca

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