Off The Mat

The Cost of Freedom

AshtangaYogaOBX — June 27, 2013
Off The Mat

The fourth chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is called “Kaivalya Padah.” One translation of this is the “Chapter on Absolute Freedom.”  This points us to the understanding that yoga is a path towards liberation.  Your yoga practice should help you find, express, and experience more internal freedom, thus breaking down your limitations and barriers.

What is this freedom? Freedom from what? What exactly does this mean?

Well, this is a very deep question indeed, and one I cannot answer in a short writing such as this.  I did want to explore it by sharing my personal experience of this state and what it entails.

All my life I have been told I am a free spirit. I have always searched for this inner truth.  What has changed through the years of my life and especially the years in which I have been observing dedicated yoga practice is a more mature understanding of what freedom truly is.

The deeper I look and observe myself, others, and my reaction to external stimuli, it is clear to me that freedom comes when you untangle yourself from the repressive thoughts of the conceptual mind.  The mind makes a wonderful slave but a horrible master.  Yoga practices offer us tools to take back the power, to unlock the door to our own cage.

This awareness has brought me to a place of looking deeper within myself for this expression and experience. I have discovered that the way I choose to perceive reality is often what constrains my experience of happiness.  The cause of suffering has less to do with what is actually occurring in my life.  I have learned to look inside for answers and stay present to my moment to moment awareness. When suffering emerges I look to my mind to alleviate it if I can.

We have little control over the external world, and we do not always have access to understanding why things happen as they do.  All we can control is the way we react to it and the way we choose to interpret reality.  These perceptual shifts are often the difference between misery and happiness.  In this process, you may experience that heavy lethargic feeling that the world is bearing down on you, but when you keep looking at your thoughts, let it go, and hand it over; eventually the wide open space will emerge.  I am not saying this is easy to do, but a worthwhile process, especially when life hands us a test.

I return to the presence of my teacher Tim Miller over and over again because I continue to appreciate being reminded of this process.  In his presence, I am humbled in a way that leads me to what feels like a state of grace, and then I feel the vastness again.

I have often said that I learn just as much from Tim from his silence as I do from his words.  I have spent a lot of time practicing with him in Encinitas, and every time I see him, I hear the same thing…”I, I, I, Michelle, so much I….” with a heavy tone to it, invoking a feeling of carrying around chains.

Now, remember that he has never actually said this to me out loud, but somehow I receive the reflection.  In this reflection, I am reminded of how heavy the attachment to “I” and our self-centered view of reality can be.  Sometimes I feel slightly irritable, but after I let this guidance in, I feel much better.  Everything gets lighter and I feel freer.

When I was younger, I read the Carlos Castaneda series. I think they had a similar language for this.  The teachers of their tradition called it “getting rid of self importance.”  Personally, I resonate with that.

It is not to say that we should take it into self degradation which is ego in another aspect, but to let go of our attachment to who we think we are and make room for growth.  The Universe is a vast and expansive space, the Earth is older than we can imagine, and we are a part of it all.  We are vibrating with the rest of creation, so let your hair down and enjoy the dance, get out of your head, and take a load off.  The world does not revolve around you, thank goodness!  It feels like a relief to me.

When you are searching for answers or understanding, it does not live in the conceptual mind.  The meditative mind is a different and beautiful space; without confusion, contradictions, or chatter.  Surrender to the space between the thoughts, try to be there for a while and let truth be revealed.

You are usually your own worst enemy.


Michelle Dorer
Owner, Director, Teacher – Ashtanga Yoga Center, Outer Banks, NC

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