Close your eyes and picture the Yoga Path. What do you see? I have a lovely painting over my bed that evokes the path…it is a wide, gentle, well-marked trail through a calm and peaceful wood. The trees explode with the pale green of early spring. Sunlight filters down like fairy lights through the soft canopy. When I look at it I exhale and imagine a soothing forest bath, bare feet on the earth, cool breeze kissing my tranquil smile. It is a sweet, romantic fantasy, the April photo on a yoga calendar, and absolutely NOTHING like my actual experience.

For dedicated seekers, those attempting to unravel unconscious patterns and uncomfortable truths in a bid to transcend self-limiting habits and beliefs, the yoga journey is quite different – less Disney princess dancing through the forest, and more Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. Yes, there are calm times, laughter and victories. There is also great peril. There are companions along the way, but some things you must do alone. There is magic afoot and orcs on your trail. There is no way through without descending into the Mines of Moria. There are guides and helpers, fear and exhaustion, and moments you rue the day you left the Shire. There are great battles, heart-wrenching losses and Gollum, always Gollum. The temptation to give in and give up is strong. It takes heroic effort to drive out the darkness, but we know in our hearts that the light is worth it.

Not the best advertisement, I know. I doubt anyone’s using this metaphor to fill yoga classes or sell Lulu Lemons. And maybe it’s not this way for everyone. But I believe that yoga is a path to healing deeply buried wounds, and that healing can be a long, hard, messy process. Anything we dig up must be re-experienced before it can be released, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable. The road is long and unpredictable, and we’re going to need supplies. Luckily, the Yoga Sutra provides us with a list of things to pack: Reverential faith, strength and courage, remembrance, a calm and integrated mind, and our deepest internal wisdom. (PYS 1.20)

Shradda – Keep the faith! Have trust in the process and confidence in your abilities. Only a very few people are born enlightened. Most liberated souls have arrived there under their own steam. It is possible! Commit to your practice and know that progress is always happening, even when it feels like you’re stalled or backsliding. Freedom is your birthright, and no effort is ever wasted. Never doubt your potential to heal yourself. Relax and keep going!! 

Virya – Be brave! Be accountable. Be consistent. The journey to self-actualization requires sincere effort and fortitude. Be willing to look at the hard stuff. Be open to sacrificing comfort for progress. Be fearless in your self-assessment and unflinching in your desire to take control of your self-defeating thoughts, and ultimately your life. If you fall off the path, dust yourself off and climb back on. You are stronger than you think you are. Your potential for peace, clarity, and bliss is your personal responsibility, and it’s within reach. Stand tall, stand strong, and grab it!

Smrti – Don’t forget! It’s said that yoga is the remembrance of that which we’ve always known, but simply forgotten. Remember your divinity. Remember why you stepped on the path in the first place. Remember your victories and how far you’ve come. Remember lessons learned from past mistakes so you’re not doomed to repeat them. Remember that the view from the top is worth the climb. Remember that you are loved and capable and worthy of a life free from unnecessary suffering. Remember that the light you unearth within yourself will help brighten the whole world.

Samadhi – Meet the moment! Samadhi, the word assigned to profound meditation, means consistent integration. It is the ability to inhabit each moment with calmness and clarity, free from preconceived ideas or hidden prejudices. It is openness to every experience, without judgment or labels. Through practice we can quiet our opinions about our experiences long enough to actually live them. When we release resistance and welcome exactly what is, we become fully present and permeable to what the moment has to offer. 

Prajna – The inner guru awakens! As we continue to exercise faith, courage, remembrance and integration, our deepest knowing begins to arise. There is much information to be gained from the world, but we each carry an ancient intelligence inside of us…that “little voice” that can always be trusted, even when it defies the noise outside. It is the true wisdom that emanates from the earth and our ancestors. It is the drumbeat of the cosmos in the rhythm of our hearts. The further we travel on this magnificent path of yoga, the more quiet the distractions of the mind become, and the more loudly this voice begins to sing. Let its song guide you home.

The yoga journey is not for the faint of heart. Much will be asked of us, but along the way we will discover hidden gifts we never knew we possessed. It is an epic journey fraught with great risk and greater reward. It is the timeless journey to self, the final frontier, and the greatest adventure of all. Godspeed, brave hobbit!