Spiritual speaker and author, Marianne Williamson writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” This is a quote I’ve read many times and think about often. Recently, though, it’s given me pause, the words, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I’ve been meditating on this because as I grow and understand my yoga practice more, I understand it to be a practice that should help us evolve beyond the habitual patterns we’ve created. It should help us evolve into beings who are present enough to be mindful of our actions so that we can choose to act with compassion and love for our self and other beings–rather than with knee-jerk reactions based on habit or illusion.

Yoga should help us move toward this evolution; it should help us become less afraid of our light and release those patterns, habits, illusions, things that hold us back from evolving into a being that shines. And though it should help us do all of this, so often we forget. It is the light that we feel at the end of a yoga class or when we’ve offered ourselves in complete generosity to another being, or when we know we’ve said and done exactly the right thing in the right moment, or have prepared the perfect meal, that we remember how it feels to truly shine, to reach our fullest potential. Still, we shrink back to the habitual.

Recently, I was having a heated discussion with my husband about finances, one that I could feel escalating to a fight. In the middle of the discussion I became very aware that I had a choice–I could diffuse the situation with love, calm my own anxiety and frustration and try to see things through his eyes, or I could continue just as I already was and end up in a full-blown fight. I’d like to say I instantly chose option one, but I did not. In my head I heard the litany, “Why do I always have to be the one to make things better, why does it always have to be me? I don’t want to back down…” I was nearly ready to launch a return attack on my husband, but then remembered the terrible hang-over that accompanies a fight, the grief and anger that gets strung out long after the words have been said. And so I stopped. I admit I really didn’t want to, but I did, for my own sake. And in that moment, I felt myself get lighter. Just for a moment, I felt some heaviness lift off of me like a literal weight.

Later, I tried to analyze why this is something that I even need to consider. Like most, I have many habitual patterns that get me nowhere, that hold me back on the path even while I am trying to move forward with my yoga practice. There is safety, I think, in what we know. And I think Williamson is onto something–we do fear our light, our beauty, the amazing beings we can be, and so we shrink, staying closed inside a tiny box of existence.

That doesn’t sound so good to me. I want more of myself and so I continue on this practice, because I believe, as generations of yogis before my have believed, in the efficacy of this practice. I have faith in my practice and in myself. T.K.V Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya the father of modern yoga, writes that a meaning of the word yoga is “‘to attain what was previously unattainable.’ The starting point for this thought is that there is something that we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga. In fact, every change is yoga…when we find a way to bend the body forward and touch our toes, or learn the meaning of the word yoga with the help of a text, or gain more understanding of ourselves or others through a discussion, we have reached a point where we have never been before.” Perhaps it feels unattainable to live in such a way that you feel present and light in your choices every day. Yet, this is what the practice of yoga is–“to attain what was previously unattainable.” Previously unattainable implies that at some point it no longer is unattainable. At some point, growth happens and we reach “a point where we have never been before.”

So I continue to watch my breath, to do my asanas with mindfulness, to meditate and to live my daily life, taking care of business and family needs and sometimes feeling very shrunken and unenlightened. But I continue because I have felt, just as so many others have, the lightness and wonder when I attain what was once unattainable–be it a particular pose on the mat or a moment of mindful action off the mat. And as these moments or poses are attained, I know that it becomes easier and easier to recall just how to get there the next time I try.