At six years old, I was asked to stand in front of my classmates and declare my dreams with conviction: I want to be a doctor, a chef, an astronaut in space. At thirteen years old, none of it really mattered – I just wanted the dismissal bell to ring so I could hang out with my friends. But at eighteen or nineteen, I found myself sitting in a university lecture hall answering twenty-page long aptitude tests that weighed down on my future. I began to attend yoga class in the hopes of quieting the worries that began to clench at my breath. Now, at twenty-two, I show up at job interviews, count my savings, wait long lines at the bus terminal while I surf through social media—where everybody else on Instagram seems to be on a holiday. I look forward to practicing or teaching yoga in the evenings or weekends, hoping the class would somehow ease my anxieties. For all of the sixty of seventy-five minutes, it does. But afterwards, I still always ask myself: What future?
I ran into a road block with my yoga practice a few months ago, after realizing that, even after committing to my yoga practice, I am still the same anxious person that I was when I first started practicing. I would have an hour of blankness and silence on the mat, which has certainly helped me manage the whirlwinds of my mind a whole lot better. But my worries always come pouring back in. I chalked it up to my age—I used to think that I would have everything figured out in my twenties, only to admit to myself that I don’t really have a clue. Is the yoga “working,” then?
I had lunch with a fellow yogi friend recently. It was a holiday and we managed to set aside time from work. Over coffee, we shared our experiences with our first jobs, our second jobs, and our yoga practice. We both agreed that going to yoga class has helped clear our minds and given us momentary escape from “adulting.” “I look forward to my year-end bonus so I can finally take teacher training,” she said. I couldn’t help but look back to my YogaWorks teacher training, where on the very first day we learned about the very first yoga sutra: atha yoga anushasanam. Now, the exposition of yoga. The call to authority, the call to focus on the present moment.
I think most yogis in their twenty-somethings are initially drawn to yoga class—or asana, in general— because of the safe, serene space it creates. We try to look for quick fixes to blank our minds, and sometimes yoga helps us do that. But off the mat, we return to our states of feeling dissatisfied with work, doubtful about relationships, dwelling in the past, scared about the future. So maybe emptying the mind is only part of the process, not the goal. Perhaps yoga class is where the practice merely begins, that true, authentic practice unfolds and unfurls outside of the mat.
I picked up my copy of Patanjali’s yoga sutras after that lunch. I came across the concept of santosha, which is Sanskrit for ‘contentment.’ According to Patanjali, contentment is to be able to live outside the passage of time, to then be fully present.
The goal, then, is not to completely clear the mind, but to become aware of it. And the key to that is being present in your thoughts and in your actions, being mindful of what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what you’re doing. What am I thinking now? Why am I behaving this way? What can I do to be better, and how can I take steps towards it?
And there are different ways to be present: listen to a podcast during your commute, take a walk during your lunch break, read a short story at home, cook a meal, take up yoga or meditation. Of course, to be present is easier said than done. It is natural to worry, to be afraid, to think about yesterday and tomorrow as if we were still or already there. Perhaps that is why yoga is called a “practice,” because to be present is something you constantly have to work at, to constantly flow through each and every day.
But can we ever reach a true state of contentment? I think what makes adulthood difficult for most people is that we expect ourselves to know everything, to be “grown up” in everything that we do, to answer every test and perfect all the scores, to sit down for coffee with a friend and share a neat, streamlined litany of your very adult life. Most friends I know hope to reach a certain peak of prosperity and success. While that is a reasonable goal to look forward to, I still believe that it’s important to never lose that sense of learning, to understand that part of growth is admitting you may not know all the answers, to give yourself allowance for mistakes, and to learn to love the questions as if you were just six-years-old and drawing your dreams with a crayon.
My challenge now is to really live out yoga in my daily life – even when I’m not practicing asana. That does not at all mean abandoning my responsibilities and commitments, and neither does it mean completely letting go of my concerns and my worries. Today, what it means to really live out your yoga is to be aware of the mind, to be present in everything and all that I think and do. To move through life the way I practice asana: with mindfulness and intention.
Being young and living a life full of worries and doubt often feels like moving through a dark room, chasing after something, but when you’re able to be in the present, in the moment—neither there nor beyond, neither in the past nor the future—the experience is like gradually finding your shape in the shadow, tapping yourself, turning around. There you are! Or rather: Here I am, at 22-years-old.
Cathy Dario is a graduate of the 2016 200-Hour YogaWorks Teacher Training. She is a preschool teacher by day, and a yoga teacher by night. Follow her blog at www.tappyyoga.wordpress.com.