Written by Terry Wolfish-Cole
Imagine yourself standing in front of a locked door. Beyond the door is everything you’ve ever wanted…joy, love, success, a life without suffering, but how will you unlock the door and step through to the other side? Yoga is the key.
In Sanskrit, the attitude that makes us want to unlock it is called tapas. That passion is what leads us to our mats, whether for the first time or the thousandth. It’s the desire to connect to our own hearts, to each other, and to Spirit. With attitude, the key is placed in our hand.
When I was a young woman, my grandfather began to go blind. He was a proud man, and the dependence that came with his vision loss was hard for him. For almost 50 years, he’d taken care of my grandmother. Even toward the end of his life, when my grandparents would come back to their apartment after an evening out, he would carry the keys. He had a little trick he would use to open the door; he’d hold the key in his hand and slide his thumb along the shaft to guide it into the lock without fumbling. Alignment is akin to that skillful insertion of key into lock. Its study takes time but the rewards are without end. Without careful alignment, our efforts can be clumsy. We often expend more energy and see fewer results.
To me, alignment is the most important step in opening the door to happiness. However, time and experience as a teacher and a student have shown me that, just as there is no one way of thinking or one spiritual path that works for everyone, there is no single “right way” to practice any pose that will benefit every body on every day. While I have found an way of practicing based on specific and universal alignment principles that are usually “right for me,” As a student, I remain open to feedback. As a teacher, I respect that what feels good for me may not be best for everyone. I offer my students cues, adjustments, and assists that I think will be beneficial, and then I watch and listen. Together, we figure it out.
Finally, we turn the key: we take action. We begin to understand that there are things we can do to help ourselves, and we do them. We slow down, breathe, and plan. We go with the flow, rather than flailing against the current. We contemplate. We meditate. We journal. We offer seva (selfless service to others). We seek satisfying relationships. We choose healthy foods. We gravitate toward books, movies, television, and music that is uplifting. On our mats, we open ourselves to our teachers’ lessons. We become students of our own bodies, trying different things and asking ourselves not only how the shape of a pose changes when we realign our bodies, but also how we feel differently during practice and later, as our day and our week goes on. Off our mats, we integrate what we’ve learned into our daily lives. Ultimately, we find the peace and happiness that we seek. We live lives of greater consciousness, greater ease, and greater bliss.