The Heart of Yoga & the Path of Least Resistance
Published in the YABC Spring 2002
The sun was setting on a cool January evening when Leila Stuart
had just completed a day of clinical massage practice. It could
have been any other ordinary day but today something was wrong…very
wrong. Leila felt so tired she could barely move. How could this
be happening to her, a usually healthy and indefatigable clinical
massage therapist and yoga teacher ?
Yoga teachers are symbols for health and well being. They are
dedicated to a practice which absorbs body, mind and spirit in
a state of balance. The idea of this balance being disrupted by
an illness is an oxymoron which turns the picture perfect yoga
teacher image on its head. Our expectation is that yoga practice
will make us impervious to all difficulties and act as a kind
of divine intervention shielding us from all messy and undesirable
human problems. The truth is that yoga practice gives us the courage
and resilience to tackle whatever comes our way.
Leila was diagnosed with a virus which she says was an opportunity
to learn about letting go. "Going inside yourself,"
she says, "is where spiritual transformation begins".
"Yoga is a state of being more than what you do." Leila
says, "I think that's what really happened for me being sick.
I think the trap that a lot of teachers and therapists get caught
into is they feel like they have to do something; they have to
show what they can do. It’s the old dichotomy between doing
and being. I think that yoga is coming to a place of wholeness
with yourself, whatever that is."
"We're human beings", Leila says "and it's easy
to get sucked into an ego place of well, we're not quite human,
we're somewhat elevated and that we shouldn't get sick. This illness
has definitely been a huge lesson in humility for me. And even
the progress of the illness. I kept thinking I should be getting
better faster than I am. I should have divine dispensation from
the process that everyone else has to go through in healing which
is healing a little bit, staying at a plateau and so on."
Before she got sick, Leila had been through what she describes
as the biggest warp speed shift in her life. She bought a home,
renovated, got married, sponsored the Donna Farhi 2001 teacher
training and was the star witness in a trial. In the midst of
all this, Leila also continued her clinical practice and regular
yoga teaching schedule. When Leila got sick, she made a conscious
choice to let go of her resistance and accept what was happening.
Rather than being victimized, Leila made a choice to accept the
illness and ask herself what she could learn. This is the heart
of yoga: making a choice that empowers us to deal with what is
happening in our lives, whether it is pleasant or painful.
"I strongly believe now that it was really important that
I did get sick. As soon as I stopped looking at it as a physical
thing and started looking at it as a gift from God, in a spiritual
transformation, then things started to shift and open and I got
to more of a place of surrender. It was a big struggle to surrender.
It was a big struggle to get past the thought that this is just
The ability to let go is an important part of the state of balance
in which health is maintained and illness prevented. Like all
good yoga teachers, Leila was accustomed to giving out. In Traditional
Chinese Medicine, this is known as yang. Yang represents the male
energy of heat, light, creation and dominance, while yin is the
opposing female energy of cold, dark and submission. Leila recognized
that she was giving out too much and had forgotten how to be on
the receiving end. This idea of giving selflessly lies at the
very core of the yoga teacher persona. There is a tendency for
teachers to give too much (which can lead to an imbalance). This
imbalance caused Leila to feel depleted of much needed personal
"As a teacher, healer and therapist, there's this persona
that starts developing and that's the maya(1)of
it. Yoga is about balancing yin and yang, ida(2)and
I was very overbalanced into male giving out and neglecting receptivity.
This realization kind of shifted the whole healing process from
'the next doctor, the next test' to my meditation and going deeper,
looking at my dark side. I thought I'd done a pretty good job
at looking at it before but obviously, I hadn’t gone deep
Leila tells a story about the man who wanted to become a great
violinist. The man goes to a master violin teacher and asks him
to ascertain his skill with the instrument. Upon hearing the man
play, the teacher exclaims, "Oh, that's terrible! You have
not suffered enough. Go away and come back after you have suffered."
Soon after the man loses everything, including his home, family
and employment. In his sorrowful state he wanders into a moon
lit tunnel and begins to play his violin. The violin teacher just
happens to be walking by and hears the man play. "That's
wonderful!" the teacher says, "I can hear that you have
Is the message here that we have to suffer dire misfortune and
in calamity in order to grow? Certainly the Baba I met in North
India thought so. He hadn't allowed himself to
sit down for eight years and he had the sores on his legs to prove
it. He was trying to make this earthly human plane as unpleasant
as possible so he'd really want to transcend it. In yoga philosophy,
this is referred to as 'tapasya'; pain that leads us to desire
liberation from suffering.
It's important to realize that we are not here to suffer. It's
our own power of awareness that is the remover of pain, and not
the pain itself. The goal is not to create more suffering in order
to remove it, but to remove suffering through awareness. In Leila's
case, her awareness of pain was a catalyst for her to strengthen
her spiritual foundation. This spiritual foundation, Leila says,
is the heart of yoga.
"Before I got sick, I was unbalanced. " She says "When
I gave out in classes or in therapy, I wasn't staying connected.
Now when I teach, I am teaching from a spiritual foundation so
what comes out of my mouth is multitextured. It encompasses the
spiritual, the emotional, the physical and the mental in a much
more integrated way now. It's like I'm speaking from a depth of
Being, Spirit and experience that I never had before. Or I was
never in touch with."
While yoga teachers can often impress us with feats such as holding
kumbak (breath retention) for a long period, or balancing the
body in fantastic pretzel like positions, the fact is that yogis
are human too. Yoga teachers are just as vulnerable to the gamut
of unforeseen human experiences as everybody else. The gift of
yoga is a growing spiritual awareness that accompanies us through
whatever experience life throws our way. A life of yoga practice
doesn't necessarily shield us from difficult and problematic situations
so much as facilitate the evolution of a spiritual foundation
that remains no matter what is happening in our lives.
Sanskrit word for illusion
2 Sanskrit word for the pathway on the left side
of the body, linked to right side of the brain and associated
with congnizing power or thought
3 Sanskrit word for the pathway on the right
side of the body , linked to left side of the brain and associated
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