Since I arrived in my new hometown of Shanghai, China, I have been expanding in many ways. I am meeting new people, experiencing and exploring new places, trying new foods, starting to learn a new language and surrounded by new culture. I am growing and absorbing more each day.
My yoga life however has been in a state of contraction. I have been drawing inward and not in the best or easiest of manners. I am feeling rigid, insecure, lost.
I am a Kripalu yogini, I am a Kripalu yoga teacher, I am dedicated to practice on and off the mat. My yoga is a yoga of compassion, love, and devotion. These are the cornerstones of my lineage, a lineage that is powerful and profound. It is a path home to the heart and eternal soul.
My practice includes observance of the yamas and niyamas or yogic ethics, asana or posture, pranayama or breathing techniques, chanting sacred songs of prayer, meditation in various forms and most of all compassion, prayer and devotion to God. All of these practices are intended to awaken consciousness and strip away illusion, bring freedom from suffering and ultimately culminate in realization of one's true nature. Love.
Recently I have been struggling in my practice, feeling that I have lost my way. I feel like I have lost myself.
I have gone to a few yoga classes here. The first two were crushing. The teacher took us through a very challenging physical class. She offered no modifications, gave no permission to do less, she performed aggressive "corrections" on me in several poses. When, at one point, I told her that my back and shoulders were not going to "to do" what she wanted, she coldly told me "Try."
There was no heart, no spirit, no compassion. I left that class deflated, questioning myself, my practice and judging my body. This opened up my core wound of unworthiness and the familiar internal dialog came gushing in torrents through my mind, thoughts like, " See you don't really know anything about yoga. Your practice is weak and your body is a failure. You have no business teaching. You are not good."
As I searched the city for an alternative I only found more of the same. Hot power and vigorous vinyasa abound (these can be wonderful and beautiful but don't serve me on a daily basis), and several people confirmed to me that the yoga environment here is full of striving and competition, not much room for love and compassion. I felt disheartened and alone.
I retreated to my home practice, to my way of moving, to the breathing and praying and inquiry of Kripalu yoga. Bapuji (Swami Kripalu) said in a well known prayer to his followers, "My beloved child, judge yourself no longer. Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart, you stop drinking in the love which is the wellspring of your vitality."
Love is the path, the practice, it is the beginning and the end. If I move in an asana practice with no love and care for my body, and beyond that my whole being, the practice is bankrupt and useless, and yet, even that struggle and suffering comes to teach.
I see now that that experience brought me here, back to my home practice, it brought me to this insight, to this page, to these very words I offer now. The struggle is the field that, nourished by faith and surrender, blossoms into growth and becomes an offering. It is perfect.
I have not lost myself, what I long for is community. I realize I rely on my yoga community or sangha to see myself, to reflect my light and gifts to me. I have been put on a pilgrimage of sorts, to know myself, by myself, to know my value by my own light. My name, Jyotika, given to me by teachers, means light or torch bearer.
My teachers gave me that name but it is my responsibility to claim it, to fulfill it.
Therefore I declare; I have something very valuable to offer. I am a teacher of Kripalu yoga and that teaching is needed where I am. I have the ability to create a loving yoga community. It is up to me to shine the light.
I made this declaration with the guidance of my teacher Vidya, whose constant support and unshakable faith are my inspiration. Her love is a wellspring fed by devotion and flowing with grace. She reminds me that my practice is nonstop, we live the yoga. We are truly powerful yoginis not because of physical prowess or accomplishment but because we are choosing to be awake in this life, to feel, to struggle, to walk directly into the fire and turmoil, because we have love in our hearts and faith in our souls. We follow the path that Bapuji offered us, the path of love.
My yoga breakdown has been a gift. I lean into my faith now, I let go of fear. The last line of that prayer from Bapuji is my mantra now, " Do not fight the dark, just turn on the light. Breathe and let go into the goodness that you are."