On yoga, love and strange animals

During our Thailand retreat we spent one morning practicing in the beach shala, where we floated through our yoga accompanied by the sound of waves and let ourselves be engulfed by the magnitude of the ocean as we meditated. Exhaling our way to shavasana, this was a picture-perfect yoga moment. But before the exhalation was over, something made its presence felt. I’m still not sure what it was, but it sounded like a mix between an extroverted, slightly angry duck and a large frog with an upset stomach. I tried the usual “Notice the stillness inside of you that cannot be disturbed by anything”, but it was a losing battle, and we all cracked up as the noise continued. No longer picture-perfect, it was nevertheless a perfect metaphor for life that happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Even though I wouldn’t usually compare love to weird animal mutations, the metaphor seems to fit my current attempt to wrap my head around this fairly challenging aspect of life: What is it that makes love feel perfect?

It seems to me that we can make lists of what we’re looking for in a partner until we’re blue in the face, and swipe right and left while searching for it, but what really presents our hearts with the potential gift of being blown wide open is surprise. When we let ourselves be moved by something that we never saw coming, and that we couldn’t possibly have added to the script of our lives on our own. Because no matter how many “this is what I want” lists we write, fate as well as life itself will always be far greater writers than we are, especially if we dare to surrender to the unexpected.

To be able to let go of your need to mold love into a pre-set formula of what you think you want and instead let someone touch your heart in a way you never expected to be touched is truly precious and worth cherishing. To have the courage to open yourself to the beautifully nuanced, quirky and cool aspects of another person is the most direct way of seeing the breathtaking sacredness of the world around you (as the Bhagavad Gita would also have us know). If you can walk right into the unknown without concerns and Google Maps there’s a chance that you’ll encounter the kind of adventure that has the potential to set you free of those preconceived notions of life that we all carry with us and that rarely lead to happiness.

And while I know that love for most people usually presents itself in a form that seems a whole lot less epic than what I’ve just described, this could very well be because of our own fear to give ourselves fully, not because of love’s innate qualities. But luckily we have yoga that at its most profound and unbiased is a lot like love: An adventure that has the potential to set you free of preconceived notions, thus preparing you to let go of fear and welcome the life-altering romance that you deserve.

Of course there are other ways of practicing yoga, most of them a whole lot less romantic. In my own practice I’ve noticed a filter lately that seems to thicken when I spend too much time on social media. So while I was traveling I experimented with keeping all SoMe interactions to a minimum. What I discovered on my mat while on the road was a yoga that felt much more grounded in the sensation of sacred life and deep love - for breath, body and movement of energies - and much less concerned with what I should and shouldn’t be doing according to a long list of experts. A yoga that unfolded from me, not from the vrttis of the online yoga community.

And it’s not only the technical side of things that can overshadow the visceral experience of your own body in your practice but also the strangely aggressive moral discussions that unfold in yoga forums. They often appear pretty much black-and-white rather than open to those nuances that - just like love - will make our practice grow and allow us to travel to places in our hearts that we’d never thought we’d visit, through compassion and listening. These days, when it comes to discussions of yoga online, we’re either for or against someone, for or against something. Firm standpoints are the rule rather than the exception, and remembering that the people on whose walls we post or whose writings we comment on are just like us - open to hurt and crushed by anger - seems of little importance, as does the fact that we could potentially learn from each other if we weren’t so quick to judge.

After a break from it all I’ve come to realize that stepping forcefully into a discussion might not always be the best way to create positive change, just like adhering to a set list of demands when it comes to relationships might not always to be the way to an open heart that love can enter. If we as yoga professionals write from a deep wish to take the practice in a new, positive and potentially nourishing direction that’s of course positive, but if we mainly use the discussions to position ourselves in the competitive business of yoga this might be less helpful.

For my part, I’ve decided that any kind of positioning myself from now on will come from sharing what I teach in a way that is hopefully helpful and positive, without juxtaposing it with what someone else teaches. I’ve also decided to be as kind to people online as I would be if I met them face-to-face. We’ve all found yoga for a reason, and we all deserve to be met with an open heart rather than an agenda set in stone.

Even if it won’t always be easy and even if I’m bound to fail from time to time, I’ll try to stick to the sacredness of my practice and look for the nuances and surprises in life rather than for what is black-and-white. Because I want my heart to stay wide open. Both when it comes to yoga, love and strange animals.

Ann-Charlotte Monrad