Western Adaptation of Yoga

Written by Amanda Whittal.

Walking down the street today, I noticed myself clumsily stumbling. My feet hurt, my knees were sore, and the day had just begun. I couldn't help wondering, 'what's with this?' A full-time yoga instructor and holistic practitioner and I can't even walk straight? As I watched my frustration rise, I became aware of this awareness, and was suddenly inspired. The time and effort spent on personal improvement and growth was paying off after all.

western yoga

To some, this story may sound strange...allow me to elaborate. With a background rooted in western psychology, my university education took the perspective of identifying human flaws and disorders that cause their lives to be less ideal than 'normal', and set in motion plans to 'fix' them. This is no doubt a valuable service. Psychology is dear to my own heart, as there are many individuals suffering from mental and/or emotional afflictions that are incredibly detrimental to their quality of life.

What's missing from this model (though gaining more attention in the growing field of positive psychology) is the flip side of the coin, the yin to the yang, the opposite end of the spectrum that inevitably exists in our world of duality. How do we surpass this 'normal' line and expand the experience of our lives to new heights? At some point or another, we have all had days in which we are flooded with inspiration, feel physically healthy and strong, mentally sharp and clear... yet many times we revert back to our 'automatic' state, completing the repetitive and often mundane tasks of the day half-consciously, with our thoughts drifting to other things.

As I mentioned, the relatively new discipline of positive psychology is beginning to investigate this. Eastern philosophy and medicine, however, captured this wisdom that we have yet to grasp, thousands of years ago.

The western adaptation of yoga and holistic healing is, for the most part, still in its infancy, and quite superficial. People go for relaxation and to feel good, but usually miss, or are not even introduced to the deeper changes that can be initiated. Yoga seeks to make a connection with oneself, to hear one's own heart and truth amidst external turbulence and distraction, and live from this place. Holistic healing (shiatsu therapy, energy work, osteopathy, etc) seeks to create harmony within the body and mind, so that circulation and energy (frequently blocked by stress) flow freely, and systems function optimally.

These practices are much more subtle than what we are accustomed to, yet with practice and dedication, they cultivate and awaken within us a more sensitive awareness and presence with what is occurring each moment.

Revisiting my little mishap with my walk down the street, I realized that this awareness within myself continues to grow stronger. Nothing was intolerably wrong, my body was simply tired and I was feeling things that I might not have even noticed in the past. What is the significance? Health and prevention. The way I was walking may have eventually led to a foot, knee, or back injury had I not detected and corrected it, which tends to happen to many of us. Our body sends small messages, which we fail to hear, and they continue to become louder until it takes a more serious injury to get our attention. Mine is just one example of how this plays out in our lives in various forms.

If you are interested in increasing your well-being, I encourage you to explore yoga, positive psychology, or holistic services, and find something that works for you.

As an additional note, this body awareness that you will begin to fortify reaches beyond physical benefits. Our tendency to routinely go through life on autopilot sucks the magic that exists in the present moment. If you try nothing else, experiment with this simple tool to increase the vibrancy of your days: approach each moment, each task, as though you've never seen it before, never done it before, because you haven't. Even if it's something you've done hundreds of times, consider that you haven't done it today.

When our thoughts wander to other things, we are living in the past or the future, which don't exist in this moment. All we have is now. Experience it. Welcome yourself to earth each day as if you're here for the first time. Bring your full attention and abandon expectations of what will or should unfold. Simply see things as they truly are. You never know what's going to happen, and if you're not watching and ready to embrace it, you will miss out on many things.

I'll leave you with a favourite quote that illustrates the beauty of this truth of uncertainty well:

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.

Buckminster Fuller

May you view the world with fresh eyes and allow vitality to infuse your life.

Related Links