Article – Realizing your potential – December 2012

Realizing your potential

By Valerie Faneco – 

When my seven-year-old daughter said that she wanted to take Manga drawing lessons, my blood froze in my veins. The idea of Japanese Mangas conjured visions of pale teenagers clad in baggy clothes and hunched in a corner reading violent comic strips. My daughter loves drawing and has a passion for all things Japanese, so she simply put the two together and decided that Manga was going to be her thing. I gave in, took her for a trial class, then signed her up… she was the only young girl amongst a few teenagers.

It has been almost four years since that day, she still loves drawing Mangas and has become very good at it. Her passion may not last forever but at least she had an opportunity to explore her potential in a field of her choice, even if it never would have been my choice!

When we ask ourselves whether we have truly explored our potential most of us are forced to observe that unfortunately we have not. As such, we have “invited death into our life at a young age”, to quote the grand-son of Professor T. Krishnamacharya.

We are all born with certain “seeds” of potential that we may or may not know of. In yoga, these potentials are called svabhava, meaning what is inherent to our nature, what we are born with. But obstacles in life mean that often potentials fail to develop. Dreams are crushed or talent goes unnoticed. If it is noticed it may not be nurtured. We could wonder how this happens, because when our children are young we want the best for them. The problem is that often what we perceive as being the best for them does not actually reflect their real temperament, personality or constitution. To complicate matters even further, there can be conflicts between individuals or within one’s self.

A wonderful aspect of the classical yoga tradition is the strong relationship with a teacher and mentor. A yoga teacher in the truest sense is one who helps the student on the journey to fulfill his or her potentials, not to live someone else’s life or play someone else’s role. A good yoga teacher gives us the tools we need at a point in time so that we may advance on a path to discover our Self; a path evolving from our own practice rather than leading to a goal set by the teacher. In ancient times having such a mentor would help a student to understand him or herself better, to make the right decisions in education, work and personal life.

How often do we meet such a teacher today? How many of us can say that we are fulfilled in our jobs or in everyday life?

We are limited by boundaries and identifications, many of which are self-imposed. I am my children’s mother, my husband’s wife, a teacher for my students, and a student when I am with my teacher. Roles put us in boxes; they showcase aspects of our self, but not the Self as a whole.

In everyday life there are many situations in which we try to be someone else: when we follow a teacher in the practice of the “perfect” form in a yoga posture, are we not trying to imitate someone else? The asana is put in a box and we try to squeeze ourselves into that box. What is true for asana is also true for our behaviours, habits and experiences in society. Most of the time we are responsible for erecting our own barriers which prevent our consciousness from expanding, our true potential from being explored.

People who start yoga often ask themselves: “What is the right practice for me?” A yoga student may practice for years and go around in circles, hopping from style to style in search of it.

The right practice is simply the one that helps the student to reach his or her potential. While the practice may work well, its effects are not always pleasant; growing can be painful! But if it does its job, then there should be a time when the practice is no longer needed. A classical definition of yoga says: apraptasya praptih yogah, “to go where we have not been before”: the realization of one’s potential during one’s lifetime.

One of the reasons why most of us fail to reach our potential is fear.

Fear takes many forms and comes in many areas of our lives. There is the fear of oneself, the fear of the unknown, the fear of other people’s opinions, etc. Sadly, the list is long! The fear of what you might think of this article could have stopped me from writing it. My daughter’s fear of failure in a drawing competition could stop her from participating.

But we must not be too quick in dismissing fear. It is not wholly “bad”. If it were not for the fear of death, how could our ancestors have survived in the prehistoric jungles and savannahs? According to Patañjali a deeply ingrained fear is a common denominator in all human beings, an inborn survival mechanism, even for the most accomplished yogin-s *. It is a part of our nature, our svabhava.

The problem is when fear becomes overblown and influences the way we act and respond to experiences. We can effectively become “paralyzed”, stopped in our tracks when we are prisoners of our own fears. Yet the awareness of fear is the first step towards being released from it. Once the awareness is there, the work of yoga can be done. Few things are more exhilarating than the feeling of being set free.

A path of yoga is always challenging. It makes us look at ourselves straight in the eyes; it makes us dig through our baggage of fear, identifications and self-imposed boundaries to reach our core, to unearth the jewels of our potential so that we may fulfill it. It is never too late to try, but it can be difficult and painful at times. It takes courage and humility, amongst other qualities.

Many people who come to yoga are “dead”. Yoga helps them to come to life.

Valerie Faneco –

  * Patañjali’s Yogasutra II.9: svarasavahi-vidusah api samarudhah abhinivesah

Valerie (Being in Yoga, Singapore) is a senior yoga teacher and teacher trainer who has studied for many years with the Desikachar family, at the KYM in Chennai. She is certified to teach yoga according to the methods of T. Krishnamacharya  and his son, TKV Desikachar. She has been studying and teaching the Yogasutra and principles of yoga philosophy for many years; she translated a commentary of the Yogasutra into English, published in India.