where the freedom to be ourselves unlocks transformation on and off the mat

Dr Maria Quinlan

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” Carl Rogers
I find this Carl Rogers quote fascinating, the idea that when I can finally just accept who I am that this is when real transformation can occur is such an interesting concept. Just how powerful the practice of yoga can be in this process is not something I often see written about. Yet acceptance and transformation, both on and off our mat, are key benefits that come with a regular yoga practice.
Yoga is an ancient philosophy and spiritual tradition – a way of life rather than merely an exercise regime, and the physical practice of yoga (asanas) that we are most familiar with in the west, while important, is just one of the so-called eight limbs of yoga. At its essence yoga is about knowing yourself and compassionately loving the person that you are. Acceptance of the reality of who you are, what you like, what you want to do, naturally unlocks action, change and growth. 
So how does yoga do this? As Donna Farhi, one of the leading western yogi’s puts it, the practice of yoga “ characterised by a meticulous process of deconstruction in which we make it our top priority to figure out who we really are. We try to remember who we were before…all the prejudices that come with a fixed identity”
The freedom of yoga can help to catalyse a beautiful virtuous circle in our lives: It begins with me seeing, loving and accepting myself, as I do this I begin to get more confident in trusting my gut and doing what feels good to me; from this place of attunement with my highest good I make the best decisions for myself, and by doing so I am happy and following my true purpose – I am ‘successful’.

Trusting ….yourself

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift” Albert Einstein.
If there are any universal ‘truths’ in the world, trusting one’s own gut arguably ranks among them. Everyone from business leaders to the great philosophers rank trusting one’s gut as a key lesson in leading a successful life. However we’re never short of people telling us what to do in life – colouring our experiences with their own and placing their hopes, dream, fears and insecurities upon us.
For me the goal is to truly live from a place of love, abundance and faith in myself, rather than a place of fear, scarcity and doubt in my inner wisdom. As children we tend to do this naturally but through the process of socialization we learn the rules of the family, groups and society that we are born into. The gap between what truly makes us happy and what our family, friends and society expect from us can be narrow or cavernous. Yoga gives us the tools to see ourselves and to see others expectations, hopes and dreams for us more clearly – and the confidence to accept or reject others opinions of what we ‘should’ do with our lives. A life based on others dreams and expectations for us, if they are very far removed from what truly makes us happy, is set up for failure.
Yoga gives us strength of body and mind to have the compassion, courage and confidence to tune into our inner wisdom and to go with our gut.

Trusting…the abundant support of the universe

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” Matthew 6:26
“By doing nothing, everything is done” Tao Te Ching 48
While we tend to associate Yoga with exercise, activity and bendability in the west, in my experience the phrases that best describe the true power of Yoga are far more passive than active. ‘Allowing’; ‘being’; ‘surrendering’; ‘letting go’ – these are the phrases that truly encapsulate yoga’s unique strength. The passive or Yin element of yoga embodies the idea of the Tao – that by doing nothing, everything is done. It takes a long time to get into this mindset and truly embody it – the idea that without struggle, without fight and resistance, the best path will naturally unfold and all will be well. To have that kind of true faith in a power greater than ourselves is simply not how most of us were raised. Similar to how yoga allows us to tap into and trust our own inner wisdom, it allows us to tap into and begin to trust the wider universal energy that we are connected to and which supports us in life.
The idea that you might ‘miss the boat’ is for me one of the most fear-based, anxiety-inducing phrases in the English language. I can safely say that no good decision in my life has come from a place of fearfully doing something because I was scared I’d miss my ‘one big chance’ at a job, a love, an opportunity of any kind. Rather I’ve learnt and re-learnt that life-lesson over and over. The aha that followed many a wrong decision is that ‘I am the boat!’…I don’t need to hop onto some other ship for my survival – rather I have everything that I need. I don’t need to chase any opportunities in life, I just need to get busy doing what really makes me happy and all good flows from that. I can be discerning about what I want to have in my life, I can pass up opportunities that don’t feel exactly right and know that other better ones will come along.
It’s not that we don’t have a part to play – I believe our role is to love and take care of ourselves like we would our dearest friend or our most beloved child. We show up for ourselves – on and off our mat. Science catches up with what the spiritual traditions have been saying for centuries, and the work of Dr Kirsten Neff speaks directly to the power of self-compassion as a force for positive change in our lives – by loving, nurturing, being kind to ourselves we provide the most perfect conditions for growth and transformation to occur. Namaste.


Dr Maria Quinlan is a Sociologist at University College Dublin and an RYT 200 trained yoga instructor. You can contact Maria at and on Twitter: @maria_quinlan
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