There is an old Hindu spiritual teaching called “The Snake and the Rope.” As the tale goes, a man walks into a dark room and sees something coiled on the floor. In a gut reaction he mistakes a coiled rope to be a coiled snake. When he collects his frantic energy enough to turn on the lights and the darkness vanishes, what is illuminated is the true nature of the object. This analogy for mistaken identities and meanings is as applicable on your yoga mat as it is in your life.
Like the man in the story, our minds often misinterpret situations or circumstances because of ingrained patterns of reaction. These reactions open us to experiences that have the texture of stress, anxiety, frustration and fear. Can you think of the times in yoga class that you were asked to try Headstand, Crow Pose or some posture that tested the limits of both your physical and your inner strength? In those moments, did you spiral quickly away from your solid center? Did your inner voice start spouting stories of self-limitation and doubt? Yoga asanas purposefully twist our bodies into physical shapes that strike emotional chords inside. We all walk around with outdated emotional blueprints that, when triggered, revert us to responses found in our past. We do this without really recognizing that these responses aren’t relevant to our current life situation.
Often when we are asked to attempt something new or seemingly impossible on our yoga mat, we feel a flurry of energy in the body that invites the mind to find a reaction and interpretation. From our limited perspective, we automatically allow this energy to be interpreted as the state of fear. But fear weakens our ability to move forward. When we are scared we get trapped in a reaction pattern that keeps us exactly where we are — or worse, causes us to regress. Once the brain has decided that this is the way we feel, without the right tools, it is difficult to change our mind.
Moving from scared to sacred
What we are trying to nurture on the yoga mat is a sense of acceptance for that which is Sat, or Truth. When you seek truth, you give yourself permission to harbor a broad perspective that welcomes all experiences without attempting to critique and judge them or change them in any way. When we hold space for ourselves to respond rather than react to challenging asanas or challenges in life, we step away from fear and toward that which is utterly divine and profoundly sacred.
Courage is the opposite of fear — its energetic vibration has the capacity to move mountains. The root word of courage is cor, which in Latin means heart. To the heart, everything is sacred. The heart is like the light turning on the dark room; it illuminates the actual nature of our very own reality. The heart reminds the mind to take a closer look. Yoga is an ideal environment in which to closely observe that which is true for us and, in doing so, build a new emotional blueprint to draw from.
When we are first establishing a relationship with the variation of the self that is present on our mat, we may teeter back and forth between scared and sacred. In Sanskrit the word that describes a crossing point or an intersection on the spiritual path is called a Tirtha. With practice, breath and mindful awareness, your embodied wisdom gives you the vital energy to cross the many Tirthas from scared to sacred in your life. We learn to move past that which scares us and step bravely into our sacred seat. In this space all things are possible, and the coiled rope that was once mistaken as an object of fear is illuminated and becomes a tool for transformation, a teacher for propelling yourself forward toward your most illuminated and vibrant self.
The next time you are faced with something that makes you feel scared, recognize it instead as an opportunity to embrace the sacred teaching or bit of wisdom held beneath the initial gut reaction. The mind needs help from the immeasurable wisdom of your inner voice in the heart to see things clearly. And the ability to hear the inner voice is like exercising a muscle: The more we do it, the better it works.
Nichole Golden is a yoga instructor, health enthusiast, environmentalist and animal lover in Boulder, Colo. She is passionate about living in harmony with all beings and inspiring a life of rich connection to the mind, body and soul. Get to know Nichole better by joining her Facebook community.