Joy of practice
By Elonne Stockton
Yoga Ruined My Life
Richard Freeman will joke, "Yoga ruined my life." What he means is that once we start to sincerely practice, we are unable to buy into the illusion of the world in the same way, and the pleasures of the senses don't have the same powerful grip over us. It is impossible to live the way we did before, buy into the things we once did about what we need and should want out of life. Maybe yoga causes us to rethink our career goals, totally changing the course of our life. Maybe we stay in the same job, and maybe the course of our life doesn't change that much on the surface, but our attitude towards our work and towards life inevitably reforms. It must, if we are really practicing.
Initially this is painful, as the ego tries to hold onto past conceptions of who we think we are and what we think we are supposed to do with our life. It is very scary to think we are not who we thought we were, because then who are we? We might cease to exist!
After turning 24, I had been working in journalism when I took a break to visit a yoga retreat in Bahamas. It's now 9 years later, I have been teaching yoga ever since, and I am still trying to make sense of my practice.
Yoga has a way of bringing us to where we are supposed to be, wherever that is for the individual, and it gives us the opportunity - the same opportunity for everyone, whether we are doctors, businesspeople, yoga teachers, or anything else -- to work on what we are meant to work on in this life, to honestly confront our habits and preconditioned behaviors. But in order for it to do that, we must practice, sincerely.
Through the practices we begin to come face to face with ourselves and with reality, as they truly are. In that there is joy. Only through the practices can we start to see things for what they are and start to experience true happiness. And that happiness is independent of the senses, of our attachments and aversions, our likes and dislikes. It also doesn't mean that we are jumping up and down, bubbly and excited all of the time, that we never go through periods of sadness or depression, or that we never question things. But there is a powerful, underlying contentment that can be sensed and that always soothes us and comes to assuage our fears and doubts.
Consumed by Samahita Retreat
There are few retreats where we can immerse ourselves in the practice of yoga and learn about the practice of yoga, in its entirety. Koh Samui is a place I have traveled to countless times, and I now live there. Am I there for the beaches? They are lovely, I admit, especially our serene beach, but no. Is it for the sweet and friendly Thai locals? No - not that they aren't sweet and friendly! For the pad thai? I enjoy Thai food, but I am also okay without it. For the Durian? Well, this is for sure a possibility. For the Chaweng bars and Muay Thai boxing matches?? Uh, no! Really there is only one reason I started coming here and one reason why I am here now, and that is Samahita Retreat.
Our retreat is rare; in my opinion there is nothing quite like it. I've spent a lot of time on ashrams. I love their intensely devotional energy; I love any opportunity to lose myself (inching closer to who I truly am), whether it was in asana, pranayama, karma yoga or chanting and kirtan. Through the practices, we become ever more present, and we begin to catch a glimpse of our essential nature; we begin to discover an underlying happiness that is already within us to experience. I've always been lucky to find sincere practice spaces, with some very spiritual and uplifting souls. Only in safe, supportive environments could I allow the practices to completely absorb me, swallow me up.
But it was not until I found Yoga Thailand that I saw it was possible to have the sincerity of an ashram, without the restrictive elements of it. Once I found my teachers and Yoga Thailand, I had a place to escape from the chaos of city life and be with my practice uninterrupted, to be in yoga. I was blessed to find this new place, where I could allow the practices to totally consume me.
Whenever I would come as a guest, there was a sense of homecoming, as well as a sense that I was stepping into something very powerful. Surrounded by sincere practitioners and my dear teachers, I felt fully supported, as I still do. And now I try to offer the same support for other students coming through, whatever guidance I can, as it has so generously been afforded to me.
When students come here they also have the opportunity to be in the practice and to experience the joy and well-being that the practice has to share. By joy I mean there is a contentment and a sustaining awe and ease that carries us through life and helps to make sense of all of life's challenges. This really only happens when we are in it, and when we have something concrete to work with and follow.
A Personal Practice
When I met Paul and Tiwari, after years of practice, they immediately started to clean up the little things I was doing incorrectly, and they gave me a personal practice to work on and keep up. It was the first time I felt like I actually had something that was my own to grow with. It was the first time I knew what I needed to work on, based on what was going on with me in my practice.
We all need something to work on; we need to have a personalized practice. And we need to have a place to go and a person (or a couple of people) who we can check in with about our practice. Otherwise we are just wading around in the water, taking this and that class, or doing this and that practice. Maybe we are quite regular in our efforts. Maybe we even experience a lot of benefit from what we do. But we still do not have something that submerges us. And granted, many people are wading in the water, afraid to get wet, or they don't have someone who knows how to swim teaching them, which makes swimming impossible.
But there is really no avoiding getting wet. As Paul says, "You are either on the train, or else you are dangling out the back of the moving train, attached to a chain, getting beaten up along the railroad tracks." How's that for mixing metaphors?! I bet you are wondering, "Am I swimming or am I riding a train? Wading in the water or getting beaten up on the train tracks? I think I'd prefer to stay in the water metaphor rather than the one where I get beaten up!"
Ultimately, it is for us to figure out what we are doing and where we want to go with all of this. But one thing is certain, and that is avoidance leads to more suffering. Everyone needs to deal with their stuff in life, and the practices are meant to help us confront and work through these things. There are countless distractions to pull us away from the opportunities that life presents us with to grow. Everyone has their own stuff to deal with, and we can either face it head on, with the help and support of the practices, or we can deal with only the things we absolutely have to, avoiding any real growth, taking every chance we get to distract ourselves and to escape.
One thing that a student can get from Samahita Retreat, which they cannot get from most anywhere else, are specific practices to work on and build. It is a place that is conducive to growth. It is a sanctuary to come back to, with teachers to check in with who can start teaching students how to swim.
We try to be a support for students as they come through, help them make sense of the practices, and help them see ways they can improve and develop their own practice. Hopefully, each student will leave the retreat with something real to work with, inciting further study and growth.
And we deeply hope that they keep up the practices and come back to see us. It is a real treat to see students come back. At first, it seems like they were just here, and then when we watch their practice we realize that so much change and growth has occurred in them. And we start to see the serene joy in their eyes. Seeing that is one of the moments when I am certain I made the right decisions in life, when I am overjoyed that yoga ruined my life.