A friend of mine recently held up a mirror and asked me to look into it. I did. Then, she asked me to look at everyone in my life - friend, family or otherwise - as a mirror; a refection of myself. And I did. The reflections I saw offered a lot of insight about how I see me. Some of them I liked, some of them I found difficult to view. Then, I took this practice onto my mat. What did I find? My mat is another mirror.
Each time we practice we have the opportunity to look more deeply and recognize what is actually happening. Our response in each asana is a mirror - reflection of our self. Each bit of tension in our neck reflects the stress we are carrying through each day. Every grimace during utkatasana reflects our reaction in difficult situations. Every time we hold our breath during a urdhva dhanurasana we recognize our hesitation to open our hearts with ease.
We become aware of the constricted areas of our bodies. Then, we relate them to the constricted areas of our lives. We can look at a bigger picture, taking our practice off of our mat and placing it into the perspective of each day.
Case in point: my hips have always been very open. I am the first one to float into pigeon and release my chest to the floor. Lotus has never been a problem for me. Put my foot behind my head? Sure, no problem. This flexibility has served me well on my mat until one day when it did not serve at all. I began experiencing a lot of pain in my sacrum. Debilitating pain. I went to see my massage therapist. The diagnosis? Too flexible. What?! Yes, too flexible. My hips lacked the strength required to hold proper alignment, eventually affecting the alignment of my sacra-iliac joint. My body ached for strength. The prescription was to begin to develop strength through my hips and limit the amount of stretching through the hip joint.
In yoga, the hips are where our patience reside. I've always considered myself an extremely patient person. I am an expert at waiting...patiently. I am also the "yes (wo)man." I am flexible in my schedule. I happily give. And give. And give. But underneath all of this flexibility I found some dis-ease that was quickly growing into resentment. I lacked the strength to say no, even when it was a detriment to myself. I lacked the strength to stand up for myself. Fast forward 18 months and I feel more balanced in my flexibility versus my strength. I even find the pluck to say "no" sometimes.
The physical lessons that we learn on our mats are reflections of our selves in life. Each practice is an opportunity to take a closer look, take a deep breath and reflect. We'll soon find our Self looking back at us.