Everyone hears their own chatter in their head at times. The message is sometimes full of praise but often times full of self-criticism. Learning to script the message of this chatter is something everyone can benefit from. This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student took time to reflect on this challenge while focusing on a return to creative expression.
In a big nutshell:
I have been an artist for as long as I can remember. Instead of connecting with people and relating, it was just me, a pen, and paper. Sitting for hours and drawing my life as I saw it or wanted it to be was my life force. School was art-centered. College was even better because it gave me more opportunity to fully immerse myself into being creative. Working in the corporate world for the past 13 years being told how to design and what to design sort of interrupted my flow of creativity up until last year when I left it all. The process to do my art again has been slow.
I would like to give myself the opportunity to create something – a doodle, sketch, an entire piece — something expressive, something artistic once a week. Maybe then I can get that momentum going again and just have it flowing from my fingertips instead of reeling in my head and feeling stuck.
The process of being creative and staying creative has gone through different stages in my life. As a small child, it streamed like water from a steady flowing faucet. The thoughts, emotions, urges, expressions all came out effortlessly and consistently. School and college still supported the imagination but then the work started turning into assignments with due dates. Fast forward to the working world and corporation employment – something happens emotionally and/or mentally that somehow halts my ability to express myself. The ideas are there spinning in my head, collecting in folders on my computer desktop, saved and bookmarked…. but I just can’t seem to let it go.
The goal of creating something once a week to share with others was supposed to be an easy way to get it all out – to not feel stuck, to stop keeping it all inside and connect with others. The experiment was not as successful as I wanted it to be. One piece of work was created and shared within three weeks. There was a lot of judgment and criticism, “Only ONE piece of art in three weeks? Good artists constantly doodle and have something to reveal daily. What’s wrong with you?”
Having a busy schedule or other things taking priority is always the excuse. This experience has actually slowly been revealing itself within the past year. The journey has been full of me being with myself. I have been learning to guide, nurture, and encourage myself to start making art again. It truly is a daily affirmation game for me to get going. I never really needed it from the outside world because I have become numb to others’ prodding and confidence. I have even let positive comments from others to run dry through me. I needed it within myself to step onto the path and be my own biggest fan and supporter.
I knew deep inside that I was the only one beating up myself. I was the only person holding myself down. Once I became aware of the mantra “analysis causes paralysis”, I then put myself through an exercise of closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and jumping in. Thoughts are like chatter, sometimes, it gets to be too much. I am left covering my ears, screaming, and running out of the room. Since it has only been a year that I have been doing this practice of nurturing and motivating, I still need to stop, and self-guide myself to even pick up a pencil. Imperfection is still something I am learning to become friends with – it’s OK to draw a line that doesn’t make sense, it’s OK if I only do one sketch a week, a month, or whenever it happens. No one is expecting anything of me, I am in safe place of expression. Everyday is a work-in-progress.
The following account shares the journey one Axis Yoga Teacher Training student takes to find an authentic personal Yoga practice. With the many paths and practices of Yoga, it takes some self-exploration and experimentation to find what feels right to each individual. This student was able to embrace Yoga in a way that fit current beliefs and practices, and left room for Yoga to continue to become a more substantial part of life.
I started doing yoga five years ago with the sole motivation of getting physically fit. I soon started to know and appreciate the subtle mind-clarifying benefits, and the importance of the breath in the practice, which can be applied to many situations throughout my day. My practice stagnated for years when I found myself unable to pay for yoga classes and then I ended up traveling for two years consistently. I continued to practice asana almost daily, but I wasn’t learning anything new or deepening my practice at all. As soon as I started the Axis Yoga teacher training, I could almost immediately feel the benefits of deepening my practice by using pranayama, meditation, and mantra along with my ever-evolving asana practice. At the same time I came up against a deep-seeded inner obstacle; a resentment to being told how to practice my spirituality, and an aversion to dogma and ritual (especially mantra for some reason). Having felt the positive effects of sadhana in Vipassana, and in class, and seeing the use in overcoming aversions, I decided to use the opportunity to do a personal experiment to get to the bottom of this particular aversion. I decided to try and do at least thirty minutes of sadhana a day and see what kind of effects it had on my mind and well-being. I figured that if I could really experience the effects of the practices, then I could more easily overcome my aversions and allow them to become a part of my life and improve my well-being.
Almost immediately it became clear that my original goal was not going to come to fruition. The experiment happened to fall on a time when I had a terrible cold that lasted two weeks, making it impossible to breathe normally through my nose let alone do pranayama. Furthermore, it came at a time when the summer camping trips I lead for youth had started, making it difficult to find the time and space to do a practice that requires so much silence and solitude, and which could be very alienating for the youth I work with. I also had trouble forcing myself to sit indoors to practice sadhana with the beautiful springtime weather beckoning me outdoors. I did learn from this obstacle, however. I learned that I can create my own form of meditation which allows me to be outside, and really enjoy the practice. I would simply find a quite spot alone in nature and sit up straight while trying to keep my focus on the present moment and my immediate surroundings. This was a big breakthrough for me as far as getting over my aversions to meditation, because I realized that I could bring in everything I’m learning in yoga and add my own pieces that work for me to make it something that benefits me even more and also allows me to express my spirituality in a way that feels authentic to me.
This inauthenticity was perhaps the root of my aversion to mantra. I always felt strange chanting word I couldn’t even understand except that I knew they were praising deities I didn’t even believe in. Not only that, but it is sung in such a monotone drone which, as a musician, sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me. It was not intended to be a part of my experiment, but attending Tushta’s Gita study session really helped me to clear out some of my blockages about mantra. Tushta explained the aspects of existence that the different Hindu deities represent, which made them much more palatable to me. Then, as if from divine intervention, my practicum group convened and decided unanimously that I needed to be the one to lead mantra because I play the accordion. I didn’t even argue because it seemed so clear to me that this was my chance to turn mantra in to something I love and use it to help dissolve my aversion. I found a mantra whose translation really resonated with me, and I found that once I was able to turn it in to a beautiful, melodious song, it actually became something I loved. When I led a practice session of it with the class, I was deeply touched by how beautiful it sounded when everyone sang it back to me, and the calming affect that the vibration of the accordion and the words had on me. It was really a transformational experience.
I do wish I had worked more with pranayama for this experiment, because I still don’t seem to get much out of the practices we do in class, and I haven’t done enough outside of class to really feel experientially what it can do for you. Reflecting on why I couldn’t seem to make time for it, I realized that it was partially because I was afraid of what people would think of me. I live in a house with one parent who gets up early and one who goes to bed late and my room has no door or sound barrier from the rest of the house. Realizing this, I really had to come to terms with that ugly side of me that is self-conscious of what other think of me. It was a good thing to look at, and now that my seasonal cold has cleared up, I still could take the time and effort to get over that mental barrier and discover for myself the effects of pranayama on the body and mind.
On the surface, I would say that my experiment was a failure. I was probably only able to fit fifteen minutes of sadhana in to my day, about five times a week. At least at this point in my life, I don’t seem to have the stability or the dedication to commit myself fully to the yogic path (i.e. waking up at 5:00am to do all of these prescribed practices to increase my prana). If I failed in that, I think I succeeded in coming to terms with myself and my own spirituality, and overcoming some of my aversions. Reflecting on the experiment, I realized that I may never be that hardcore yogi, and that’s okay. I can just meet myself where I’m at and extend from there. I now have the ability to approach all of the teachings with an open mind, learn what I can from them, and integrate them in to my life in a way that feels authentic to me. For that, I am grateful.
The Denver Yoga Underground began in 2003 at the request of dedicated students who wanted to study yoga as a holistic system. Over the years, a diversity of people, seeking education outside of a studio, found a welcome refuge in DYU.
Today we specialize in grassroots Pay What You Can workshops, accessible retreats and our signature yoga teacher training, for the outlier yogi.
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