At the end of a teacher training in Bali, Indonesia, a student approached me wanting to have a talk about her life moving forward. We sat in a hippie-influenced cafe in the yogic center of the island, and after sipping her chai latte, she leaned forward and revealed to me that as soon as she arrived home, she was planning on quitting her job and getting a divorce. I took a deep breath, and said, "Well, I'm not surprised."
Over the past several years, at yoga teacher trainings all over the world, I have witnessed folks go through profound personal change as they study the philosophy and practices of yoga. It usually gets people to take a far more introspective look at their lives than they're typically used to and sometimes looking at our lives through a microscope reveals to us where the changes need to be made.
Or do they?
When we take a good hard look at how we're leading our lives, we often see how much time we spend being unhappy - in our relationships, our careers or our homes. We realize that there are other things in life that light a spark inside of us that make us want to pursue the good life indefinitely. These folks often find such a spark in yoga that they desire to make it their full-time endeavor. But, sometimes, that's not where the real yoga practice lies.
Not everyone can be a yoga teacher. If the world was full of yoga teachers, who would practice medicine or law? Who would run for local, state, or national office? Who would teach our children or take care of our elderly? The most important role for those who find such passion through yoga may not be in front of a yoga class, but rather, in the front of a courtroom or in front of a class of sixth graders.
When the spiritual practice begins to reflect to us where we are lacking joy in our lives, the response is often to run as far away from the unhappiness as possible. And, sometimes, this is undoubtedly the right choice. When 40 hours a week are spent working toward retirement and the feeling that life is passing us by, then it may indeed be time for a change. But, on the other hand, sometimes when the going gets tough, the yogi knows exactly where to go.
Yoga practices give us the tools to ignite the spark where we've lost it, to look at things from a different perspective so that we can once again see the sparkle in the lackluster elements of our lives. Ideally, those of us who engage in spiritual practices (it doesn't have to be yoga), will take the joy and passion we find through the practice and reinsert it where the charm has been lost.
Imagine my friend from the yoga training returning home to her husband and finding ways of seeing in him what it was that brought them together in the first place. In yoga, we're taught not to just be "pleasure seekers," but to be unafraid of the discomfort and find ways to be comfortable even amidst challenges. We understand that without the darkness (or challenges), we have no appreciation for the light (the good times). If we can infuse our life with a greater sense of joy and calm, then all the parts begin to look a little more bright, and the challenges give us an opportunity to rise up and find ways of getting better at remaining content in all situations.
One of my first yoga teachers used to remind us often to "lean against the sharp edges." If we reluctantly move toward a sharp edge, we get poked and bleed. But, the more surface area you press to a sharpened edge, the less likely you are to actually get harmed. This is how those crazy yogis can walk across a bed of nails or hot coals. The more evenly you spread yourself over life's challenges, the easier they actually seem.
For those of us who practice yoga, we can take solace in the fact that there are now millions of people across America who love the practice as much as we do. And, we can start spreading the word that our greatest yoga practice lies not necessarily on the yoga mat, but in the world. Imagine an enlightened doctor, the equanimous lawyer, and the benevolent mayor all taking their seat as yogis in the real world. For, if we can't function in the world around us, what good has our practice done?
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