Opening our hearts & minds


Wales, 2019


I was moved to read the story of the American Yogi Maty Ezraty, who died suddenly this week aged 55.  

Maty’s life was about yoga, she founded a business that became very successful, but what was interesting to me was her clarity and simple open hearted response to yoga and the life she made around it. She thought about it, she did not tie herself into any way which restricted her capacity to be a practitioner/teacher, her intuitive sense and her love and understanding of what yoga was about. She taught how she believed, that yoga will open us, and she was not daunted by the politics of how or what should be taught.  She believed in helping others, embracing the wonder of what yoga can be for all of us, a liberating experience. She was not restricted to any given way, but pursued the way that would allow people’s lives to be transformed.

I believe this is what we need everywhere, in yoga, in religions, in our countries, and in our ordinary lives. Let kindness and open heartedness prevail. We can easily get caught up in the political speak of any situation, become meshed in ideas of right and wrong, and forget the bigger picture, losing sight of the thing itself, the attraction that drew us in the first place.

Maty did not have a long life, as we often imagine we will have if we do yoga, but it was a life lived with an inner freedom that served others. It is the freedom of the mind we are after in yoga, not only the fit and healthy body. There is a cost, there is an effort, and it is not a small cost only, but one that is risky and challenging, and requires our participation. Living in a frightened and restricted way, with ourselves as the centre, is not the practice of yoga. Yoga is a practice of opening our hearts and minds.  

We have to work for this freedom, and it takes time. We have to keep our eyes open, particularly to the movements of our heart, opening and closing, we cannot become numb and lost and so caught up that we don’t care.

I experienced this in the retreat to Bali this year, which was wonderful. It was strong, in the sense of people working, focusing, letting go, and then finding the benefits of their focus. We worked on all levels, but with a joy and freedom which was striking, bringing an uplifting, delightful lightness as each us moved into exterior, and interior new spaces. So much of everything we do is aided by how we set out and the willingness to say “Yes”.

Each year I step away from my life to work and travel in distant lands. I come to work in a very large retreat house, living and working with people from many different nationalities and orientations. I am always pulled up by the need to let go if we are to work together. Many moods and disturbances can happen from moment to moment in this hardworking environment, yet we keep going on, and everything can change from one meal to another. Humans working together are a powerful source. I like and dislike, I am pleased or hurt, but really… so what?… the next day comes and there is work to do, and each and every interaction changes me.

Bali is like that too, day in and out we do the sitting and the asana, our inner sense of ourselves is disturbed and challenged. When we turn up our focus is on our likes and dislikes, our personal needs. Then, with the ritual of sitting and practice and some silence, the routine grabs hold of us, our small self slips a bit and we are away. There is a generosity that a yoga practice teaches, towards ourselves and our limitations, and then toward the other. There is a pleasure in working, and soon we have a little community, no longer individuals doing their own thing. We make something bigger than ourselves which holds us.

 This is a real joy and one worthy of the effort that each will make.  

Caroline Coggins


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