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Take Refuge Within

Recently, I sat in on a Satsang with my #ExtendedAshtangaFamily of Mysore Yoga Paris from all around the world.  You might be wondering: what exactly is a ‘Satsang’? This is a great question because knowing the intention of the space you’re in is helpful in allowing oneself to unfold with trust.

A Satsang is an unveiling of truths within a spiritual community.  Some would see this as a ‘sharing’ circle.  However, how it resonates with you is your own.  For me, Satsang is a beautiful way to connect with our communities near and far.  It’s an invitation to open the doors of communication and learning.  And let me just say that this was an incredibly amazing conversation!

I bet at this point, you might be wondering what we talked about? First and foremost, the conversation centered on this idea of the Inner Shala. You’ve heard the word “shala” before. It’s the word we use to describe our community.  Ashtanga Yoga St. Pete (AYSP, is both an in-person and an online sacred space where we take yoga practice with one another.

The Inner Shala is a little more personal. It exists in each one of us. Let’s explore the workings of the Inner Shala together.

Diving into the Word “Inner”

It can be translated as internal, inside, innermost or mental, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and psychological. The word ‘shala’ is often related to a place of refuge, sanctuary, safety, temple, retreat, home.  Oftentimes, we are discouraged from taking refuge within because we have false beliefs about what refuge really means.  We think we have to retreat somewhere far away, where we can be alone and meditate by the water and bask in the silence to seek the answers that lay within the heart and psyche.  We falsely believe that a physical retreat to a faraway place gives us the opportunity to mentally retreat as well. We think this is the only way we can be still and do the work.

And sure, that might work. We might have the revelatory experience and learn much about ourselves when we’re gone… but what happens when we return to normalcy?  Typically, the noise returns as well as the longing to escape again.

Luckily, the workings of the Inner Shala are short in distance and much more accessible than a 10-day, Bali-style excursion.

The Inner Shala is about holding space for oneself.  We can do this in many different ways.  We can access the refuge of the Inner Shala when we access and accept all that is within us. It’s a deep sense of belonging to that inner space instead of dismissing what is present within.

And let’s face it: our inner selves house the perceived “good” and “bad” and everything in between. Maybe we have several doors within this Inner Shala that lead us to a place of ambiguity, sanctity, light, or darkness.  You know what…it’s okay!  All of it belongs.

All of it belongs.

All of it belongs.

All of it belongs.

As long as we treat ourselves with tenderness and kindness, can we then allow the workings of the Inner Shala to take place.

Showing up for yourself on a daily basis is the beginning of the work.  Don’t fret too much on how you show up, just show up! So exactly how do we do that for ourselves? What does showing up actually look like in practice? Here are some ideas I have:

  • Play some really good, juicy music that moves you
  • Put on a breath or meditation app to get yourself focused and in the moment
  • Try a yoga podcast that leads you through a practice

Using Imagination to Tap In

Sometimes, it can be difficult to realize that our inner world is our sanctuary.  Sometimes we need a little help getting there.

First, let me say that this is completely normal! Don’t let it keep you from doing the work.  Just show up. It doesn’t matter how or where or under what circumstances.  Just show up. You’ve already done the hard part at that point!

So, this is where we turn to our resources that support and nourish this Inner Shala.  For me, it’s mostly my imagination.  What would we do without imagination?

When we read a lesson or dive deeper into the teachings we have been taught, our imagination is what makes us aspire toward the ideals of what we’re learning.  Do you agree?

I think we need some way of projecting what we interpret in our minds back into practice, and our imaginations can inspire the workings of the Inner Shala.

When I feel alone in my practice I like to imagine that I’m stepping onto the mat at the same time as many others around the world.  We are united together by the connectedness of breath and integrity.  Other times, I may pull from music, pranayama,  silence, nature, or a fellow teacher to support and nourish my practice, which in turn, supports my life.  These resources are important especially in the midst of worldly changes and challenging times.

We need to support each other with compassion and loving-kindness as well as the individual self. And we support each other by first providing that support to ourselves…

Showing up for Ourselves

Showing up is sometimes the hardest part. I can have all the knowledge in the world. I can know the exact steps. I can discuss everything with my Sangha and my friends and my family. I can talk the talk. But as we all know, talking isn’t the same as doing!

In order for us to reap the benefits of the Inner Shala, we have to move from thinking and talking to action. We must show up for ourselves. Above, I briefly mentioned a few ways you can show up for yourself. Let’s dig into those ways a little deeper…

Play some really good, juicy music that moves you – Music has a way of bringing me out of any thought train I’m on and drops me right into my body! There’s nothing better than the beat of a song literally making you move.

Put on a breath or meditation app to get yourself focused and in the moment – The breath is a powerful anchor to the present moment, and accessing the Inner Shala is all about being present. Sometimes focusing in can be hard, and there’s no shame in looking for a little help through an app. Use technology to your advantage whenever you can!

Try a yoga podcast that leads you through a practice – Every now and then, we just need to be led. Roll out your mat, turn on a yoga podcast or a YouTube video, drop into your body, and let yourself be led. Let yourself feel and just be.

I read this quote last week that really resonated with me:

“This year, I will choose structure over ‘when it feels right.’”

When it comes to the Inner Shala, structure and consistency make all the difference. Create some boundaries for yourself so that you can make it a priority to show up for yourself. The magic of the Inner Shala is available when we make the commitment to ourselves.

Questions for you to ponder this New Year: What does the Inner Shala mean to me, personally?  What resources in life can we draw from that support and nourish our individual Inner Shala? 

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