“One of the downsides of living in a culture that stresses the ethic of independence and individual achievement is that if we don’t continually reach our ideal goals, we feel that we only have ourselves to blame. And if we re at fault that means that we don’t deserve compassion, right? The truth is, everyone is worthy of compassion.”
‘Feeling unworthy goes hand in hand with feeling separate from others, separate from life. if we are defective, how can we possibly belong? It seems like a vicious cycle: the more deficient we feel, the more separate and vulnerable we feel.’ Kristin Neff
A couple of years back, my life changed considerably. I left home and literally – embarked on something huge – a life dream through the form of a cruise ship, in the port of Savona, Italy. I will never forget that day- cloudy, with dims of sunshine, the salty, cool breeze on my face and me, after a sleepless night, trying to rummage sparks of conversation from my fellow coworkers, most of them already experienced sailors. I was telling myself just this- to man up! It will be the most extraordinary thing that ever happened. Then that first moment of awe, when I saw the ship- I have never been on a boat before, I didn’t even know if I am seasick but just deeply wished that I wasn’t. * Ps . and I was right. It was extraordinary and I definitely wasn’t seasick at all! 🙂
I will always remember how I felt, that excitement, combined with the fear of the unknown but followed by that deep knowing that this is the day I waited for so long. My passport to the world.
And so it was, life on the ship was not easy, although it was full of accomplishments: of meeting people from all over the world, offering a service that I believed in: the opportunity to explore, to connect with local people, local culture, and get rich in terms of humanity, recognition, compassion and interconnectedness. This is at least how I felt.
Many times I have been asked which is my favorite place, or where would I like to live or what is that something that I learned which is so precious. The answer is complex, yet simple. One thing I have learned is that, although from different background, social status, country or culture, people are all the same. They face the same problems disguised in different forms. Yet, it is all the same. Differences melt only when you actually look through the lenses of the heart.
Throughout my sailing time and while I was traveling independently, I worked with rich and poor, with old and young, educated and non educated, refugee, disabled and even homeless. You see, we all look for happiness, we all try to do our best, be our best version and when we fail, we just punish ourselves harshly, sometimes without even knowing it, by destructive behaviour, addictions and constant pressure. Sometimes, we even feel like we are doing great, when deep within, we are crushed. I learned that through experience- self-compassion.
It was self-compassion that actually got me to yoga. While I was living the dream, I realised that my life was going too fast, I was constantly at maximum speed with no day off for even seven or eight months, working from morning till late and enjoying the ports and places that would be different each day. I was, in spite of being tired, always pushing myself to do more, to be better, to be more productive, and eventually I had to face it- I was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. That was the first time that I had to take a step back and find something to give me some sort of calm, of freshness, of space. I realised that I was on the verge of burnout, and I could either resist it and continue like this or I could just accept and learn to draw some limits. I started to observe my internal language, my reactions and self-criticism.
Gradually, as I was going through difficult times in my life, I integrated more and more what seemed to be the only key to open, accept and embrace what was I going through at that moment. I understood that self-criticism is universal, and although it seemed like I was so miserable, the idea is that all people go through hardships in life. The best cure is to replace it with a kinder response.
‘thoughts and feelings arise based on our history, our past experience and associations, our hardwiring, our hormonal cycle, our physical comfort level, our cultural conditioning, our previouss thoughts and so on. We can’t control which thoughts pass through the gates of awareness, but we can change the way we relate to them. A weed that is not given water will eventually wither and fade away.’
What do I like the most when it comes to the practice of yoga? That yoga is unique to each and every one of us, it is a deeply personal experience.
It is between you and your body, breath and mind. According to your construction, capability, and history.
Once you are in touch with your body, you adapt. Once you are aware of its limitations, you respect its gentleness. Yoga can become that practice which you can integrate in your daily living, along with brushing your teeth, eating, showering. And once you are aligned with your body, then mindfulness comes in – you slowly learn to give yourself compassion and stop those feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Because suffering comes from the comparison of our reality to our ideals.
I believe the best cure to self-criticism is just that- acknowledging and actively comforting ourselves, responding just as we would to a dear friend in need. Asking ourselves: what am I observing? What am I feeling? What am I needing right now?
Before I conclude, let’s make something clear- yoga is available to you anytime, anywhere. It shouldn’t depend on certain conditions. You don’t really need to be on a pristine beach or in the midst of a natural landscape to practice it. You don’t need to be at a yoga class, in a yoga resort or in an organised retreat. You don’t need to wear something fancy, buy expensive costumes, burn incense or whatever outer arrangements. You don’t even need to depend on that routine set every morning. You can meet yourself at any time once you become aware that the only thing that really matters is your body, your presence and your intention- to be in alignment with your breath, to observe that state of presence. To show up for yourself. With gentleness, with self-compassion.
Practicing, you come to realise that there is more to yoga than the external conditions. It is that connection that, when it deepens, it allows you see that you are more than you think of, that you are part of that divine spark. That you no longer need to arrive, but that you were there all this time.
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Would mean a lot to me to know what are the why’s of your own yoga practice?