Lisa Kaley-Isley is an experienced Para Yoga teacher and Viniyoga trained yoga therapist enabled to design personalised prescriptive practices for individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and the effects of trauma. Here she explains how we are untapped potential waiting to be awakened; the features we seek are already built in.

Since the beginning of time when we evolved these human bodies and minds, we have had trouble with them. They’ve been a blessing and curse right from the start. Our minds can go backwards and forwards in time, but our bodies remain in their present condition. So we often find ourselves in inner conflict between the inclinations of one part of ourselves and the other, and between the person we are, were, or wish we could be. Because everything changes, and we can remember, it is part of the human condition to feel sadness, grief, and longing in response to what we feel we have lost or failed to gain. Also because things happen that hurt us or we don’t expect, it is natural to feel fear. In addition to dangers that are actually present in the moment, we can anticipate things that might threaten our safety. Often before we need to, we worry about the loss of the people, ways of being, and things we hold dear.

On the other hand, these marvelous minds of ours can experience sublime joy, everyday pleasures, extend loving kindness to another, and create things previously never seen or imagined. Our inventive potential can be used to create opportunity or destruction for ourselves and others. We can light up a room with our mere presence or cast a pall over the pleasure of others. Since we are human, our potential is to do it all. We are whole: light, dark, and shadow.

I think of the Yoga Sutra-s as a human Owner-Operator How-To manual. The first chapters describe the conditions we normally live in and foreshadow other options. The later ones tell us what it is possible to attain. I can easily imagine Patanjali as a modern motivational speaker, or TFL platform guide, telling us we’ve stopped short and gotten stuck in the first patterns of interaction life showed us. I can hear him saying: keep moving people, and please use all available doors. There is more to see, and another way is possible, but first you have to let go of what you are holding onto.

For decades now, and starting about the same time in the West, there has been rapid growth in the type and number of psychotherapies, and the type and number of yoga schools. In the early 1920’s Whilhem Hauer described yoga as “a striking parallel to Western psychotherapy” and Carl Jung was intrigued because yoga facilitated “a natural process of introversion” and universal connection.[1] The types of stressors have changed over the eons, but the realities of worry and fear, grief and loss are not new. What have shifted are the natural supports we rely upon to help us deal with them, and perhaps also what we feel we can expect out of life. I think it no coincidence that at a time when women seek to be equal and empowered, and intellectually and emotionally fulfilled, talk therapies and yoga have both risen in popularity. Look at the evidence in book sales; we love a good self-help book that explains the way our minds work. And let’s face it, after centuries of corsets, bound feet, and long skirts, a modern woman moving freely feels empowered to be in her own body with less constraint.

The Yoga Sutra-s tell us clearly, we are untapped potential waiting to be awakened; the features we seek are already built in. The first empirically supported self-help book still works if you work it. We have not changed that much since our early days. Fortunately, the tools our ancestors created to help us realise our potential have also been passed along with the owner’s manual.

[1] The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1932 by C.G. Jung, Edited by Sonu Shamdasani, Bollingen Series XCIX, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1996.