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Parallel Paths

Jennifer Oechsner

When I started dabbling in yoga it was mostly curiosity and the desire to improve my flexibility. My body was also beat up and tired from martial arts and I thought that yoga would be good for me. I thought it would help my back pain (which it did). But I also thought it would be too slow for me (which it wasn't). My weekly practice became something I really looked forward to, even though at that point it was secondary to my martial arts practice. When I started really listening to the messages that were shared at the beginning of my yoga classes I realized that the spiritual aspects of these 2 paths are similar. 

When I began my martial arts journey in Taekwondo, we were taught a list of principals to follow as part of the path. Contrary to what I had originally thought, this path was not just about being tough and learning how to defend myself. There was so much more to it. Within the Taekwondo system there are 5 tenets, or principles, that are an important aspect of the system. These tenets are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, and indomitable spirit. To be an honorable student, one is encouraged to live and practice under these principles. 

The spiritual system of yoga also has a set of ethical guidelines. These guidelines can help us live in harmony with others, and with ourselves. These principles are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess, non-possessiveness, purity, contentment, self discipline, self study and surrender. To apply these principles to everyday life, we have to look at them from different angles. For example, while it's obvious that it's wrong to cause physical harm to others, non-violence also applies to harmful speech. This might prove more challenging to adhere to. When practicing truthfulness are you doing so in a way that is not hurtful to others? Literal interpretation of these guidelines is not always enough, one must view these principles through a wide lens. 

When considering the tenets of Taekwondo and the ethical guidelines of yoga the overlap became clear. Courtesy correlates to truthfulness, integrity to non-stealing, perseverance to self-study, self-control to non-excess and indomitable spirit to self-discipline. Realizing this overlap made me realize that the two paths I have been on are not really two paths at all, but one path with steps that shifts their rhythm. Some days I need sun salutations to remind me to live my life from a place of contentment. Some days I need the catharsis of round house kicks to bring me back to my indomitable spirit. Sometimes I find myself running in too many directions and I use inversions to remind me of the need for perseverance. Sometimes I notice myself becoming lazy and losing track of my goals and I practice my spinning kicks to reaffirm the need for self study.

Both martial arts and yoga give me great joy and I feel blessed to have found these passions in my life. Martial arts gave me confidence and a sense of belonging when I needed it most. It continues to help me cultivate mental and physical strength, attributes I am proud to posses. Yoga provides me balance, peace and a connection to myself and others. All of which are important for a well rounded life. What brings you strength? What are your passions? How do you connect? I would love to hear your stories.