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Nurturing Your Mind, Body, and Spirit on the Path of Yoga and Self-Discovery
I am reading a book by Baron Baptiste, the founder of The Baptiste Institute. It’s called Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice.
In the chapter “The Dance of Yes and No,” Baptiste considers the connection between our yoga practice and our life. He says:
“There are only two ways we show up on our mat and in life: as a yes, or as a no.”
What does he mean exactly? Yes carries the energy of possibility, whereas no carries the energy of resistance. Yes expresses your willingness to claim your power and use it to discover the real meaning of commitment. Yes invites you to expand and to come into your full creative expression. It opens you up and affirms your willingness to be teachable when you don’t have the know-how to get where you want to go.Yes affirms the existence of a destination in your yoga practice beyond mere physical gain.
No, on the other hand, carries a very different energy, though (in my opinion) not wholly negative. It is closed, rigid, and often stubborn. It takes the forms of excuses, complaints, procrastination, resistance, frustration, and so on. No impedes or flat-out stops you in your tracks.
You are always in a dance of yes or no. What is interesting to me is how being a yes for anything automatically makes you a no for something else. In fact, if we can’t point to what we are saying no to, then our yes means nothing.
Think about it. If you are a yes for peace, then you are a no for war. If you are a yes for creating vibrancy and health in your body, you are a no for ingesting junk food, doing drugs, and so on. If you are a yes for full acceptance in your relationship, you are a no for criticizing and trying to change the person you love. If you are a yes for growth, you are a no for procrastination and stagnation.
Baptiste then explores the no side of showing up on our mat and in our life. He says, “Looking at this from the other side of the lens, we see that saying no is the action of saying yes to something else.”
Now consider the mindfulness aspect of becoming aware of your yes and no responses to your yoga practice and life. When you pause and consider what you are saying yes or no to, then you learn that in contrast to no, yes allows for a sense of timelessness and the joy of being fully in your experience.
I share this with you to invite you to engage in your own inquiry of “What am I a yes for in my practice?” and “What do I refuse and say no to?” Or, to put it another way, “How am I showing up on my mat and in my life?”
Esoteric but Tangible: Yes & No Energy
Yes and no take the form of emotional energy, and emotions contain vibrations. That sounds esoteric, I know, but in your body and your being, you can feel it as something tangible. Think about when you’re around someone who is angry; you can feel that vibration of rage, can’t you? Similarly, someone who is happy gives off a different kind of vibration, radiating a sense of lightness and joy. These different vibrations of yes and no have an impact on your body and on your energetic capacity to support or block what you’re up to in the pose and in your life.
Emotional vibrations fuel our actions. In other words, being a yes or being a no will dictate what you do or don’t do. Consider that when you are inspired by the possibility of something, your body vibrates at the perfect frequency to support you in achieving the thing that inspires you. The energetic vibration of yes carries the emotional energy of enthusiasm, which translates into action. You are naturally moved and inspired to create and achieve.
The only way you or I can impact our practice is through action. Each asana/pose does not actually care about our intention, how committed we are, how we are feeling that day, or what we are thinking, and it most certainly has zero interest in whether we like it or dislike it. The asana’s only really evolve for us when we act into what we want to create. When you are a yes for what’s possible in your practice, you will act. And out of that action, you will expand and create a new physical reality.
Be a participating player instead of a spectator to your own experience.
“Being a yes inspires you to take the actions needed to move from where you are to where you want to go.”
But is Yes always a positive? Sometimes there are those who fall into the trap of people pleasing. They tend to say yes when they really want to say no. In the practice of yoga asana, we can try authentically saying yes to what we want. Baptiste calls this aiming true. Carl Jung said that all consciousness begins with an act of disobedience. Our dignity is found in our ability to say no to the things we don’t want—to disobey the urge to say yes when we really want to say no—and open the door to saying yes to pursuing our true desires.
Today, on your mat, are you a yes for deep, rhythmic breath (called ujjayi), or a no? If you are a yes, it will enable your breath to carry you with ease. Are you a yes for a fixed, steady gaze (drishti) or a no? If you are a yes, it will give you the action of focusing your gaze with intent and fire. Are you a yes for lightness and play on your mat, or a no? If you are a yes, your practice will be buoyed by joy.
It’s important to know where your inner compass is pointing; this is how you consciously map your path. If you don’t have it set to say no to resistance and complaints, then by default you may inevitably say yes to procrastination. If you’ve been saying yes to procrastination, it’s important to get to the cause. Is procrastinating getting on your mat to practice yoga or meditation costing you the vitality, vibrancy, and health you want? Remember, to be a yes is to act. Saying yes to the practice of saying no to the habits and thoughts that no longer serve you becomes a great source of strength and confidence.
The Energy of Yes is Acceptance
In any pose, I’m always dealing with what is actually happening in my physical body. I can accept and empower what is so about my body, or I can oppose and resist what’s happening. Being for your body exactly as it is and as it is not is acceptance. The energy of yes is acceptance. Saying yes to accepting how things are and how they are not is a choice you make moment-to-moment, breath by breath. You can choose to be a yes for exactly how the pose is and how it is not, or you can oppose and resist. Yes holds the space for acceptance, and acceptance is the place from which you empower your body to generate some new result in the pose.
Being a no for what is happening in your body is opposition. Opposition produces tension in your body and manifests as rigidity in the pose, both physical and emotional. Ordinarily, if we experience strong sensations or physical limitations, we oppose what’s happening in our bodies. To be against something is to be in reaction to it. In our body, we experience that as stress, discomfort, contraction, and shortness of breath. We don’t like that our bodies won’t or can’t do as we want, and emotionally, that leaves us with complaints, frustration, and resentment.
I’ve met many people who have faced serious health challenges and crises. Most went through an initial period of being angry, resentful, or even in downright denial about their illness—all perfectly understandable reactions. But the ones who I am always most amazed by are the ones who get to the idea that resisting what is so is actually causing them greater emotional suffering than the illness itself. Accepting what was going on allowed them to flow with the new demands of their bodies in a much more empowered way.
Acceptance of what is and is not happening—in a pose as in life—creates a mood of peace. As you engage in the dance of yes and no in the pose, you will discover that the muscles and the mood of your body become flexible and malleable in the energetic vibration of yes, and the experience of rigidity and unneeded hardness will begin to dissolve like ice in the warm sun.
Your No Pose
Every student has their no pose. Maybe even more than one haha. You know your no pose: it’s the one that makes you inwardly groan when the teach calls for it, and likely leads you to automatically think, Ugh.... I don’t want to, I can’t do this one.
But you actually don’t know for sure that you can’t do that pose. What you’ve come up against isn’t necessarily a physical limitation. Resistance can be very deceiving behind the many masks it wears. Maybe you haven’t been able to do that pose in the past, but what about today? The yogis say you can never step into the same river twice because the current is always shifting and changing. You’ve never stepped into this exact river before today. Not with this body, not with today’s particular energy, with the specific number of bites of breakfast in your belly, with the earth tipped on its exact axis. Perhaps up until now, you haven’t had a breakthrough in this pose, but that was then. What’s possible today?
Every pose is a new opportunity, each and every time. All the work you’ve done up until now has led you to this precise moment, to face precisely what you’re facing. Yoga is a dance of dealing with what is and allowing yourself to fully experience whatever you’re experiencing right here, in the moment. In life, we so often resist what we don’t like or don’t want to do. Here, on your mat, is a safe opportunity to see what’s on the other side of that. Physical asana is a measure of some higher possibility.
Put your attention on what you want to have happen and be for it, and watch the magic unfold.
What are you a yes for today? Please let me know in the comments section below of the web version of this blog.
Live Your Yoga
You want to balance a practice that works with a practice that counts. The challenge is recognizing that just because you’ve got your practice to a place that works for you emotionally and physically doesn’t necessarily mean it matters. A practice that matters is tied to something deeper: the powerful, spiritual, alive energy of yes.
The only two forces at work in a pose are aliveness and patterns that block our aliveness. As patterns are dissolved and experienced, our body becomes clearer, and the flow from pose to pose begins to make more sense. It’s funny, but when the more alive the you emerges from behind the smokescreen of all those patterns of resistance (created by the energy of no) and begins to participate in the practice with resolution and directed focus of being a yes, the practice really does take on a purpose. It all somehow makes sense in a fantastic way.
There is no use searching externally for purpose or trying to “pull it in.” It is already available right here in the pose. Just focus on clearing out and letting go of what is between you and aliveness: your energy of no. Aliveness and purpose are practically the same things, and they are both created by yes. The purpose is greater aliveness, so every time we generate greater aliveness, the purpose of the practice is being served. So the answer to how we create greater aliveness in our bodies and lives is always yes!
Baptiste, Baron. Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice. Hay House, 2016.
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