An Insight From My Peace Corps Journal

The temperature in my concrete house in Senegal, West Africa exceeded 100 degrees most days and nights. The walls were cracked and the corrugated tin roof littered with holes, yet this small room was perfect to me because it was the first place I could truly call my own. Fresh out of college at 23, Peace Corps was another step in my self-imposed mission to push myself to the limit and prove something to myself.

Pushing boundaries was indeed a theme of my late teens and early twenties. Tired of self-doubt, fear, and anxiety I had for years been engulfed in a hamster wheel pattern of extreme exercising, obsessive calorie counting, binge drinking, and demoralizing behavior. It was my quest for peak physical fitness that led me to a yoga class in 2003. From the very first pose, I was hooked. Every single thing about asana practice suited me—in particular, the element of self-improvement through rigorous discipline.

I had been practicing with yoga instructors for years, but it was in Senegal that I established my own practice in my stagnant, overheated, shanty of a house. With a recorded audio of an Ashtanga class, I memorized the sun salutation and standing and seated postures in that series. From that framework developed my own 60-90 minute practice that I performed 4-5 days per week during my two-year Peace Corps service.

In Senegal, I had to remain alone with my mind, totally uninterrupted by the distractions of technology and social interactions. I often went days without speaking English or looking in a mirror. There were times I would lay and stare at the ceiling for hours observing the processes of my mind. Asana practice was an anchor to deal with the frustrations of living in an unfamiliar place and culture. In this scenario I was forced to face my true nature—both the light and dark sides within myself.

One night while pouring sweat in sun salutations, I experienced what I can only describe as an awakening. Suddenly all of the fear, anxiety, insecurity, and uncertainty that had pervaded my mind for years vanished as if someone had snapped their fingers in front of my face or thrown a bucket of cold water on my sleeping body. It occurred to me with total clarity that no external circumstance had the power to take away my internal peace and integrity.

Emotionally, the sensation was like laughing and crying at the same time. I realized the truth that if you’re at home within your own heart, that no one, no thing, no words, environmental factors, or even limiting thoughts can take away that all encompassing light of love and self-compassion. It was at that moment that the meaning of yoga, for me, was truly emblazoned on my being. That night, I wrote the following journal entry that I now type out from a piece of crumpled notebook paper to share with you:

Tonight, I decided my discipline to practice yoga is extremely important for me to overcome ego, fear, anxiety, and to contribute to the universe with loving energy. I want to live as if wide awake, feeling everything including sadness, hurt, grief, with acknowledgement of these feelings while making an effort to understand them constructively in relation to the world around me and myself. I want to let go of pointless worry, fear of negative criticism, and focus on developing myself rather than breaking down. I forgive, forgive, and forgive some more. Discipline, simplicity, and correct intentions are my present focus.”

More than six years after these words were written they still ring true in my heart and in my practice. Yoga became real for me the moment I realized how its wisdom was integrating in to my life off the mat. This practice has taught me how to observe each present moment, centered, calm, focused, and totally aware of how every life circumstance can be a serendipitous teacher in the path to one’s fullest potential.

I believe in the power of yoga to promote self-exploration, understanding, and acceptance. Beyond just asana, yoga is indeed a way of being in the world. Trusting what is, loving all that you are, facing the dark aspects within and choosing to cultivate more of the light—this is what yoga means to me on a basic level. This is the path to which I return time and again with the same discipline as if I am returning to the breath in an asana practice. Even when I stumble or break, yoga remains a thread of peaceful light that weaves more deeply in to my life every day. I hope to meet you on this path: grateful, awake, authentic, accountable, and always evolving onward and upward.

With joy,
Sara