The opening line after pranayama breathing in a Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class.
I deeply believe there is something special about the way we work together in class, each of us taking responsibility to develop our lives in a way that is completely unique to each of us. All of us working on ourselves, together. In any class, one guy struggles in cobra pose, a little bit wincing with the pressure and unique experience of healing a bad back. The brunette in the blue outfit next to him gasping for breath, struggling to break through distorted views about what it means to respect herself. The wrinkled woman behind her nurturing an achy shoulder, smiling the whole time...focused single-mindedly on using her pain as an opportunity to become stronger on the inside.
We are all human at the end of the day and every time we walk into that room, we face ourselves head- on, determined to win over our problems, change our weaknesses into our strengths, each day diligently working on ourselves so our lives come to shine like stars in the sky.
Each of us is the protagonist of our own lives and when we shine as our true selves, we become happier and more capable people for ourselves and others. We are clear and genuine so we can do our work and carry out meaningful lives with energy and enthusiasm.
Progress is important, the spirit of always advancing. We come from the earth; we are made of skin and bones, blood and guts. We all think and feel, worry and yearn. We are born and we die, we have ups and downs, we discover and learn, we expand and contract. Being human means we must always grow and seek, always we continue to learn more about ourselves and the world around us.
Like all things that grow reach for the sun, we are just the same! To stagnate is contrary to the nature of life, although it's natural to get stuck. That's why it's important to always set goals for ourselves so we can ensure that we never become deadlocked.
Several years ago, after I discovered my passion for teaching yoga, I was acutely aware of the importance of continuing to develop myself as a yoga teacher and a human being. I was asking the students in class to push their edge, to practice consistently, to trust the process, to never give up. Because we are all human beings and inherently the same, I realized that always setting the bar higher for myself was crucial to effectively encouraging the people around me to also win over themselves and really change their lives with the practice. I believed(and still do!) that the only way to truly inspire change in others was to change myself first. Everybody together, indeed!
I decided to set a goal for myself. One of my Buddhist teachers named Josei Toda once said something like, "Life is short. You can only have so many dreams in your lives...so have a really big dreams!" In the spirit of guidance like that and for the sake of challenging my life, I determined to become a yoga champion on the world stage. Setting a goal like that meant I had to take action to train, seek out teachers who could help me, and commit to living with courage, never succumbing to self-doubt, assiduously teaching myself not to indulge my fear that I am unworthy or not good enough. This has been a huge struggle for me, as the last 12 years I have single-mindedly devoted myself to changing a self-destructive and self-defeating relationship with my life into one of which I am now truly proud.
My journey sent me from Portland to Seattle, from L.A. to India, and recently I've been back in the Pacific Northwest for a year, after a three year stint in the deep south. I was able to learn from yoga champions from all over the world while in India, and learned and trained in a different yoga lineage while in the deep south. Though I let go of my dream of becoming a yoga champion while down south, as it turned out, the dream was waiting for me here when I returned. A good friend encouraged me to compete in the Washington Yoga Asana Regional Championship last November. Honestly I was terrified and exhausted, in transition, still experiencing huge bouts of anxiety from the struggles and experiences of the last several years. The choice to compete meant stretching my mind and mustering a lot of courage in the face of a storm of personal demons and the last thing I felt was prepared. But I did it anyway.
I nailed the routine. I was stunned.
My life was there when I needed it...the courage, strength, the power to stand alone and not give way to my small self...my life was there for me during those three minutes on stage. My life was there for me...just like it's always been.
Despite what the fear says, we can definitely win.
I took second place at Washington State Regionals. I didn't win first place in the competition and simultaneously that was one of the biggest personal victories of my life. Because I chose to win over my small self and move forward in the direction of healing and empowerment. I chose to move beyond the anxiety and fear that once had a strong hold on me. It impacted my choices and the way I showed up with my friends and peers. Having a goal that truly challenged my life was a way to fix my gaze on overcoming the limitations I created that were causing me suffering.
Whether it's modifying your body to fit the posture to achieve a particular asana, or partaking in a yoga competition, we have to choose something to go for so we can activate our lives, always moving forward and expanding our lives no matter what happens.
This was my experience with yoga competition. It won't be yours.
Your life is completely different! Each person comes equipped with exactly what he or she needs to do whatever they wish to do. The lessons, struggles, and the desires in our hearts are totally unique to each one of us. But the beautiful part and the common bond is our shared humanity. Please feel free to chat me up before or after class if the idea of yoga competition sparks your interest. Listen to that voice! If you want to advance in your practice, to open your life to deeper self-knowledge, or if you just want to polish your Hatha yoga practice, the yoga competition will enable you to advance in a way that is unique to you. You don't have to be a super-star super yogi with a fancy practice. A yoga "competition" is for individuals encouraging and supporting one another, together striving towards a common goal to each advance in our own lives.
If you're scared to do it, definitely come talk to me! We'll start training on September 9th.
Have a great week, Everybody!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!