How do you see yourself?

At a yoga and meditation workshop last weekend, I participated in didactic dialogues with three other people. This was my first experience with the concept.

We were put in pairs. One person was the asker, and was instructed not to say anything other than asking the single question, make any facial expressions, or display any sign of empathy towards the other person. The person being asked the question was to continue talking for ten minutes. Our first question was:

How do you see yourself?

Then we would switch roles. Inevitably, the dialogue becomes a monologue and one cannot help but delve into the depths of the self. This self-investigation and exploration is an essential aspect of the yoga practice. It’s part of the second limb of yoga, the niyamas. Desikachar translates this Sanskrit word to mean “self discipline”. Among the niyamas, there is svadhyaya, or self-study.

To do yoga is get to know oneself. It’s an intense, intimate undertaking. It strips away all the nice, comfortable layers and leaves nothing untouched. It’s only a matter of time before the self, the ego, and all other working parts are put under a microscope.

It’s not just about discovering the bad things, though, the things we’d rather not think about. It’s also realizing that those things we think are so awful, really aren’t. A wonderful side effect of this medicine is that we’re so busy examining our own lives that we don’t have time to judge anyone else’s. Why do we judge people in the first place? Probably because there is something inside us that we’d rather avoid.

This weekend inspired me to do a little more digging. So I got out my scissors and some poster board. I’d been meaning to cut up some old Yoga Journal magazines, anyway. So, here is my visual response to the question, “How do you see yourself?” (Click on it to make it bigger!)


Love What You Do

“You are not what you do.”

“Your job does not define you.”

We’ve all heard these statements before. What you do, your job, and responsibilities are not what defines you as a person. However, the jobs we do and the roles we fill are important. Being integrated with them and enjoying them can enhance life, making you more fully you.

And what are you? Our entire being is not just a physical body and a personality. It has mental, spiritual, and emotional faculties. Are you what other people see you as? The little glimpses leaked to the world? Of course not. Yet we still want to believe that others are right about us. We tell ourselves the same stories repeatedly about why we are a certain way and can’t be anything else. Sometimes this even occurs unconsciously.

lovewhatyoudocropThis morning, I taught yoga and my heart was full of love for the students who woke up early on a Sunday morning to come to class, and for this healing practice of yoga. Again my heart was full this afternoon, after I coached gymnastics. My heart was full of love for the little girls who work hard with discipline, for myself for encouraging these beautiful girls and being a positive presence in their lives, for my boss who mentors me and pushes me to be not only a better coach, but a better person.

A year ago, I was working a different job, as a full-time manager. When I would leave work, my heart was not full. I felt exhausted, under-appreciated, and stressed. Someone else may find joy in that job and truly love it. But it didn’t fill my heart the way teaching yoga and gymnastics does and it did not help me live more fully as me. It beat me down and made me feel like I was trying to fit my square self into the round perception of others.

Be yourself, blah, blah, blah. We know it. We know it in our heads, but do we believe it in our hearts? A lot of the time we don’t, because we let our minds rule us and not the other way around.

The fourth chapter of Patanjali’s yoga sutras is my favorite because it talks about the benefits of mental learning while acknowledging its dangers. Verse 18 defines us as the Perceiver, the “non-changing master of the mind.”

Verse 23 continues:

“The mind serves a dual purpose:

  1. Serves the Perceiver by presenting the external world to it.
  2. Respects or presents the Perceiver to itself for its own enlightenment.”

So, I am me. You are you. I am not my mind. You are not your mind. The mind is available to use as a tool for enlightenment. It provides the ability to see all the qualities in us that are limitless and not constrained by the mind. In order to see the beauty of these possibilities, we must become the master over our mind.

I now realize, training my mind through the practices of yoga, I am able to do what I love and make a living. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. For a long time, I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough, strong enough, smart enough. But that was my mind talking. Now, accepting myself as the Perceiver, I can tell my mind what to think.

So, rein in your mind and stop believing false stories about yourself. Be you, whatever that means. Do what makes your heart full.