The most visible face of courage, and the one that we tend to value most, is the kind found in front-page headlines or on the big screen. Heroes have it, warriors have it, survivors have it… It is a quality that we all aspire to in varying degrees, yet those of us who work and live “normal” lives often feel little opportunity to exercise our personal courage as we go about our days. However, we often discount the significance of the many little things that require trust, faith, and bravery. Learning to recognize these small opportunities is a valuable skill for times when life presents the unexpected – when a big crisis shakes us from our routine.
When we practice hatha yoga, we initiate a process that by its very nature is progressive. We start with little things, and with consistent practice we build our stamina, our strength, and our courage to face increasingly more stressful situations. In the midst of these stressful situations lie the seeds for transformation – opportunities to break ingrained patterns of reaction, physical and emotional. Recognizing these patterns and determining whether you are practicing with good intentions is not easy. It helps if you have an experienced teacher you respect and trust. If you don’t, go out of your way to find one. And if that is not possible, you can embark on self-study using traditional hatha yoga texts like the Yoga Sutra or the Hatha Yoga Pradipika to gauge your efforts on the mat. Ultimately, the quality of your practice can be measured by its effect on your response to the stresses of everyday life. If your yoga helps you to respond more creatively and positively, then you’re on the right track.
Whether you are attending a beginner class or practicing at home, your first little steps in yoga take courage. And to continue to take those steps over the course of your life will require even more. When the initial feelings of inspiration and enthusiasm wear off, you must tap a deeper level of courage, born of experience and patience. No doubt in the course of your practice you will encounter your own personal biases on your mats (“I like this pose because it makes me feel good” or “I dislike that pose because it hurts”). You will be tempted to fall into the habitual trap of attachment (raga) to pleasure or aversion (dvesa) to pain. Your practice will challenge you to have the courage to stay put when facing danger or pain. By staying constantly alert during your encounters with attachment and aversion, you can keep your mind clear and your responses uncolored by your projections or your past.
Hatha Yoga builds the confidence, patience, and courage required for more challenging aspects of asana, and for the turning of your life’s big and little crises into opportunities for insight.