Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our true nature. –Henri Nouwen
Nouwen is speaking of the importance of solitude, but I also believe these words have applicability to the practice of yoga if one is approaching yoga as more than simply a way to exercise. I encourage students to come to yoga with openness, because the physical practice is only a part of the overall aim and philosophy of yoga.
The physical practice of yoga becomes a spiritual practice when we are able to extend grace to ourselves. We learn our limitations and do not view these as deficiencies. We accept and honor our capability, yet always seek to do the best we can do. When we can accept and honor our own capacity, it then becomes possible to accept and honor the capacity of others.
Our ability to accept our wounds makes the physical practice of yoga an exercise in spiritual growth. We may have injuries or conditions or aches and pains that bring us to yoga in the hope of finding relief. It requires vulnerability to accept and work with the wounds we have, be they physical or emotional. As we learn to love our bodies and what they are capable of doing, we find healing of attitudes that may be more limiting than the wounds themselves. Our culture does not encourage vulnerability, so the ability to hold our woundedness lovingly grows us spiritually.
Finally, there are poses in yoga that challenge us, that invite us to move past fear of failure, that coax us to try, in a safe space, something we may not have thought we could do. For me, that was a significant aspect of spiritual growth. Yoga helped me to be strong in the face of fear, to “breathe through the pose,” and come out on the other side more confident than before. In yoga, I discovered strength within me that I wasn’t aware I possessed. I know where that strength came from, so yoga has helped me to tune in more fully to the presence of God’s spirit in me.