“Working Out My Karma: Struggling to Find My Dharma On and Off the Yoga Mat”

Here is another guest post by writer, friend, and yoga student Sarah Militz-Frielink.  You can read the first post she wrote for LYJ entitled The Illusion of When.

Sarah was inspired to write this post after becoming disillusioned with the corporatized yoga that is currently playing in the modern American yoga scene.

If you like Sarah’s style, contact her at sarah (at) leavingdark (dot) com if you need a writer.  Sarah said that she is finally getting back into spiritual writing and is thinking of starting her own online non-profit magazine.

Enjoy, and comments welcome!


It seems like just yesterday, I signed up for my first yoga class at the local park district down the street from my house.  That was eight years ago, and I have been practicing pretty much regularly to this day.  At the time, I had no idea what I signed up for or what a genuine yoga practice should look like.  I never anticipated all the challenges I would encounter along the way.  Probably motivated by the wrong reasons to try yoga, my underlying goal was to shed 30 pounds of baby weight that still clung to my body.  I had just given birth to my third child.  I was definitely lacking the spiritual discipline a true practice actually involved.  I just wanted results.  I did not know that a beautiful path lie before me where I would have to confront my own karma and struggle to find my dharma.

I guess I bought into the corporatized version of yoga: hot, sweaty, skinny, bodies on a mat glowing with a renewed sense of beauty, a calmer demeanor, and a compulsion to eat vegan.  When I use the term “corporatized yoga”, I am referencing the images that dominate all things yoga in magazines, commercials, DVDs, props, mats, and books.  Media and pop culture bombards us with a plethora of images—pictures of hot, upper-middle class blond females, doing handstands with ease.  And then there are the magazine photos boasting post-practice smiles plastered on flawless porcelain faces as the “model” promotes a new sport drink or yoga pants line. These images do not reflect a genuine yoga practice, one that seeks to unite the “human with the divine—all within the self” as the ancient yogis instruct us to do.

During my journey, I realized that these images conveyed a false sense of hope, one based in consumerism, vanity, and prejudice.  As if all bodies on yoga mats should look the same, as if all people who do yoga are skinny, blond, vegan, and Zen-like.  What’s worse is that these images brainwash Americans into thinking what yogis should look like or act like. If someone does not fit the norm, they are questioned along the way.  This is what I call a “yogaism” a belief that those who practice yoga should conform to the norms of the corporatized yogi image and a discrimination against those who do not.

For example, I was once asked why I didn’t act enlightened all the time.  My coworker thought people who do yoga and meditate were like Buddha every second of the day.  “How come you aren’t calm all the time? I don’t get why you do yoga and are not in a continuous state of serenity.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I do yoga now,” I told him. “Because I have recognized over the years how much anxiety I had that I wasn’t even aware of; I know I’m not calm all the time.  Enlightenment is a process; it ebbs and flows.”

My coworker then responded that he disagreed with my statement about enlightenment. The people he knew who had a true yoga practice were always that way.  They were never anxious and always enlightened.  My practice then must be a sham.

I laugh now looking back on this. Who were these yogis he knew who were in a constant state of enlightenment?  Maybe he confused the ones in yoga magazine for real people in the flesh.  Maybe he knew yoga masters who practice in a monastery on a mountaintop because last time I checked we were all human and subject to moments of fallibility.

Yet on and off the mat, I am still working out my karma, struggling to find my dharma as I continue to question what a genuine practice should look like.  I now know a bit about what a genuine practice does not look like.   A genuine practice is not limited to hot, skinny, blond females, who are in a semi-drugged state of yoga bliss.   A genuine practice does not come easily.  It isn’t about increased flexibility or weight-loss.  There are times when you confront your own demons on the mat.  You realize that you have unforgiveness stored in your heart chakra.  You learn to love yourself and in the process love others as you slowly release pain from this life and (at times) the pain from previous lives.

A genuine practice does not boost your self-esteem.  You are humbled at the limitations of the human condition as you practice your poses.  You become aware of how you sell yourself out every day as a consumer in cultural capitalism.  How small acts of kindness (i.e. donating a pair of shoes to an impoverished child in Guatemala) do not change the system (i.e. the child still lives in hideous poverty).

You develop an increased sense of social responsibility as you come to grips with the excesses of the American lifestyle. The eco-friendly mat and water bottle no longer seems to compensate for the size your carbon footprint.

This is what I have learned about a genuine yoga practice.  It should not be based in a “yogaism”—one that excludes overweight individuals, persons of color, or working class individuals. Yoga should embrace all kinds of people who are different shapes, sizes, and colors.  Yoga is about making peace with self and others and embracing who we are—both on and off the mat.

"the illusion of when"

The Illusion of When
by Sarah Militz-Frielink

“The people in the West are always getting ready to live.” This Chinese proverb describes our dependence on the illusion of when. We often think about when as a soothing comfort out of the present moment. We ruminate in when thoughts to deal with our vulnerability to the changes in life. We might think that when we take a vacation, then will we will relax, or when we retire, then we can travel around the world. We also might dwell on whens about our government (my personal favorite): when we elect a new president, then our country’s problems will disappear. We focus on getting ready for some future moment and lose the present one. The illusion of when has stumped the human race for centuries, particularly those who live in the West.

This illusion is one I have wrestled with my entire life. Although I know the truth about this illusion, I still struggle with it. My childhood was full of when thoughts. These thoughts consumed me as I allowed them to rule my life. When I finish college… When I publish this…When I get married…When I have children…The truth is after I accomplished all the whens I never felt satisfied. The same empty feeling engulfed me because I just focused on the next when.

The illusion of when manifests from the most simplistic everyday thoughts such as “when I get out of this traffic jam,” to the more superficial thoughts such as “when I buy a new pair of shoes.” All these whens just take us out of the present moment and into the land of avoidance. Do we notice the songs the birds sing or experience the beauty of nature when we hide in this illusion? Do we listen to our family while we brood in our thoughts of when? No! We are not really living. We must live in the now and dissolve the illusion of when.

How can we dissolve the illusion of when? We must stop living in our thoughts and connect with our body and our spirit within. Yoga is one way to help us connect deeply to our body, our spirit and the present. My yin yoga teacher Linda often shares these wise words after a pose, “Just feel what you feel without judgment or attachment.”

We must also learn the act of surrender. Instead of dwelling on when an uncomfortable situation will end, such as a traffic jam, we must let go of our deliberations. We must try to live as the observer without an opinion about our situation. We must also let go of our attachment to the desired outcome—such as a new president or a dream vacation. Then we are free to go within, in the stillness of our divine self.

Even in the midst of a chaos, we have our five senses. If we focus on each breath in and out, we can stay in the present. If we focus on the gentle caress of the wind, the feelings and sensations of our everyday routines, we can center ourselves. Most importantly, we must remember to stay conscious of our breath. Each conscious breath ends our mind chatter and our constant thoughts about when. Each conscious moment allows us to take in the beauty of the present. In these moments, we are awake.

I have made an intentional effort to live in the present for the past four years—-ever since I found Eckhart Tolle’s inspirational book, The Power of Now. Living in the present is a challenge at times. Most moments I wrestle with when. I still trick myself into believing the illusion of when. However, there are beautiful moments I stay present and experience joyous laughter with my children or the splendor of a sunset. There are times I stay present and feel every sensation while I wash the dishes. There are traffic jams I surrender to and stay in the present. These are the precious moments of the now; the only thing I am. The only thing we are. We are the now. Our mind is not us. It is merely a tool. Our true self transcends all thoughts and welcomes every moment without judgment. Let us live in the now and embrace our true self within—-free from the illusion of when. Let us begin this, now.


Sarah is my yoga student and she wrote this for the local new-age magazine The Monthly Aspectarian. Unfortunately their website has not been updated since 2005, but you may find some articles of interest to you.

If you like Sarah’s style, contact her at sarah(at)leavingdark.com if you need a writer. Getting paid would be a good thing, too!