Vanessa Reid Off the Mat

When I moved to Jerusalem two years ago, I thought for sure that I would continue my yoga practice, especially after working at ascent magazine and having yoga present in my life in so many ways for so many years. And I thought that I would even find others in this holy city to practice with. A sangha, a space, a teacher. Even other forms of spiritual practice.

But that has not been the case. At least not exactly. My journey has been quite different. But then why would I think that things would turn out the way I thought?

And so while I have discovered here many layers and qualities of spirituality that have moved my soul, shaken my assumptions, inspired further discovery, and shifted my consciousness, I have had to completely redefine my yoga. It has led me over and over to the question, “So then what is my yoga practice?”

My practice has been to reframe and re-contract my relationship with my own body, with my heart, with the identities I had accumulated up until now, and certainly with what I had understood yoga was for me.

More specifically, my yoga practice here, in Jerusalem, has been the rigorous commitment to understanding my own heart. And the pathway to this has been through being in a practice of relationship with my partner, Yitzhak, which is the reason I traveled to the Middle East, to this city, in the first place.

Relocating to this part of the world — and reconfiguring my identity into being one who is in a deep partnership — has turned my insides out and my outsides in. It has peeled my skin off, shown me more of who I am. It has dared me to look at what I dared not look at or meet within myself, which, even through my many reflections in my “hidden language hatha” practice, I had cleverly managed to not encounter.

If yoga in all its sacred expressions is to practice union, to become more whole, to let go of what I no longer need to keep evolving, serving, living, then my practice has been one of breaking my heart open. Of letting in light to places that I had kept dark. The practice of accepting and loving all those places in me and in others, including Yitzhak’s. The yoga has been “off the mat,” as we say in North America. It has been in all the letting go and surrendering.

And now, two years later, I find myself on my mat. Quietly, in my home, in a little corner that I had identified upon my arrival here as “the yoga corner,” I am finding my way back to a different yogic relationship with my body and life, and with the divine. I find myself much softer, less flexible, yet much more flexible.

I have relocated myself. I have new ground and a new centre from which I practice. I am deeply grateful for the years of practice and reflection and the teachings that are deep in my cellular structure and which, thank goodness, find their way into my life, my whole life, and particularly in hard moments.

And, significantly, I find myself sharing my practice with others spontaneously, generously, humbly — and together we open our hearts wide open, ever so gently, into the yoga of friendship, of listening, of vulnerability, and of being present to life and its mysteries with our whole selves.

I have matured. So has my practice. It is a life practice.

Hello mat.

Vanessa ReidVanessa Reid is a Canadian writer currently living in Jerusalem, Israel. She was the executive publisher of ascent magazine and executive director of Santropol Roulant, a non-profit founded by young people that uses innovative approaches to food, relationships, and sustainability as a catalyst for social change. You can read more of her work on her blog, Jerusalem Journals.

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thank you so much for moving my mind and heart "off the mat" so that I can begin to imagine how to allow my yoga practice to integrate into my whole life.

i too have found myself traveling around the world making the process of yoga my life.  i practice Isha Kriya no matter where I am and find myself feeling stable and happy no matter what is happening around me.  this was not always so in my life.  i never realized how emotionally charged i had made my life until i found some space between my self and my mind. now i can choose whether to engage my mind or not.  it is really something