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Belief in Our Potential

Jul 29, 2019

This week I had the privilege to spend time on a yoga teacher training with Rolf Gates, author of Meditations from the Mat. His book is an interpretation of how to put into practice the ancient wisdom of the Yoga Sutras through storytelling from his own life experience. He writes about his experience as a wrestler, serving in the military, overcoming addiction, etc and how following the path of yoga (along with Buddhist meditation and 12 steps) helped him on his journey. What his book has helped me with over the years has been understanding the Yoga Sutras and how to apply them to my own life. I have circled back to his first book many times over the past six or seven years and learned different things every time I've read different parts of it, so I was really excited to finally meet him.

Rolf gave us a task this week - to choose an ordinary victory from our lives in the past ninety days, circle back and make connections both to the Yoga Sutras and the practice of yoga. With this we had to write a dharma talk and prepare a yoga workshop to present to the class. By day four I still had no idea what to do or write about, and when Rolf asked if anyone had any questions for him, I went up to him and burst into tears. "I CAN'T DO THIS!" I sobbed. I told him what I thought was the reason why I couldn't do it. My life hadn't been ordinary in the past ninety days and my victories hadn't been small. They've been large, sweeping victories. I finally quit alcohol. I became a vegetarian. I've decided to (one day) change my career path to work in wellness full time. I became much more devoted to my yoga teaching and practice. I became a Barre instructor. I'm learning to instruct Spinning classes. I will become a life coach. My life has completely changed in the last ninety days. How do you peg one moment from this, call it an "ordinary victory" and design a yoga class about it?

I also had a hard time writing anything that felt new. So much of the way I've come to understand what I've been through has been reading Meditations from the Mat. I read stories about Rolf's life and realizations he's come to, and they helped me understand the stories from my life. Every time I tried to write it felt like I was plagiarizing a page from a Rolf Gates book.

Rolf was super kind, and said that I didn't have to do it. I spent the rest of the day crying.

Later that evening, I bumped into some classmates at dinner, and they were talking about Rolf's harmonium playing. I was reminded of my harmonium in Abu Dhabi and I told them this story. I drove two hours to pick it up...and realized when I arrived, I forgot my wallet. The man I was buying it from, a complete stranger, didn't even skip a beat, simply saying "Just take it and pay me back when you can." And this really struck me. I was a complete stranger and he just gave me his instrument, under the belief that I would take the right action. I knew I was going to pay him back, but that wasn't the point. He simply believed in me. That I would do the right thing.

Belief in ours (and others) potential. In my life it showed up in this tiny little moment with the harmonium. But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that had been the theme I was looking for all along. I couldn't come up with a theme for a yoga class not because I couldn't do it, but because I believed I couldn't do it.

When I thought about it I realized belief shows up in Yoga philosophy everywhere. The Yamas and Niyamas are really all about the way we believe the world to be. When we study and do the work on ourselves in the Yoga Sutras, we are reshaping our beliefs about the world. For example, I used to believe it was really important to hold onto everything for memories. Photos, notebooks, tickets to movies, etc... I never threw anything out. My bedroom growing up was so cluttered it meant my mind was cluttered, too. When I moved abroad and had to downsize my belongings I realized that we really don't need all this stuff. Reshaping my belief to let go of things, and allow myself to accept impermanence as life's only constant, is the practice of Aparigraha (non-hoarding).

The belief that I needed to drink alcohol to have fun and I needed several cups of coffee all throughout the day is my lack of ability to practice Brahmacharya (moderation). I believed I needed these things to sustain my energy and nurture myself. I had to reshape my beliefs about what I needed and moderate what I consumed in order to bring Brahmacharya into practice.

And we have to really believe in ourselves and believe in the practice of yoga in order to change these beliefs - and Tapas is the energy that sees this through. Tapas is belief in the practice of yoga. It is belief that each day if we show up to our yoga mat and if we continue with the practice, that healing will happen. Tapas is the consistency and the ability to show up day after day even if we don't want to.

Belief is in the philosophy of yoga. Belief shows up in our yoga practice in a number of ways, too. Rolf taught us that all things that seem to come in twos actually are one thing in two forms. Woman and man are both just human. Darkness and light are both life on earth. And in asana, belief shows up in two ways as well. You know when you have a belief that you can't do certain poses? For me it was camel pose. I believed I couldn't do it, and for years I would tell my teachers it was because it made me feel dizzy. It was really because I was scared of being so vulnerable. I lacked belief in myself. The flip side is when our belief in our potential is too large. This is where injury happens. We believe we can do headstand when we don't have the core strength. We jump up into the pose. And this is what can lead us to hurt our backs. If we're too free and over believe in our ability to perform in a backbend, this will lead to injury. If we refuse to ever even try the backbend because we don't believe we can, then we're going nowhere. Somewhere between these two polarities lies the middle - the right amount of belief.

When I circled back, I realized Belief in Our Potential was the theme all along. Belief in my potential (or lack of it). It is the reason why I cried this week when I felt like I just couldn't come up with a theme for my yoga class. It is the reason why I cried on my first 200-hour yoga teacher training when the teacher asked us to meditate and I sat, looking around in panic, wondering if I was the only person there who didn't know how to meditate. (Turns out I couldn't meditate not because I didn't know how... but because I believed I didn't know how). We have to believe. It changes everything.

Since I have quit alcohol, people have often asked me how I did it. What made this time different from other times I'd tried to quit? And I always tell them the other times, I said "I'd like to cut back..." or "I'd like to drink less.." This time was different because I decided: "I no longer drink." I started to introduce myself as a non-drinker. I realize now that what really happened was I started to believe in my potential. If you believe you can't stop drinking alcohol, then you will never be able to. But if you believe you can, then you will. The key is to believe in your potential.

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