The ancient chambered nautilus shell is a potent symbol for our evolution and growth as yogis. As the animal grows, it builds larger and larger chambers for itself to live in. It seals off the smaller ones, which are then filled with gasses that allow it to stay buoyant as it moves through the ocean waters.
The spiral itself is a universal symbol of movement, energy, and expansion that radiates from the center out. In the Tibetan tradition it symbolizes the origin of the universe. In the Yoga tradition Kundalini Shakti, the power of spiritual evolution, is described as a serpent power that sits tightly coiled at the base of the spine, spiraling upward when awakened within a seeker.
Like the chambers of the nautilus shell, we can view our path as yogis as evolving into progressively more expanded states of being. Over time, the lessons we’ve learned, the knowledge we’ve gained and assimilated through practice and reflection become part of who we are. We use the deeper self-knowledge, loving inner connection, and the ability to listen and trust ourselves that we gain through practice to respond to our ever-changing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. This is how practice evolves and deepens over time, resulting in ever-more expansive ways of being with ourselves and in the world.
It might be as simple as remembering to taking a deep breath during a challenging conversation to short circuit the tendency to react or argue, or stretching our hamstrings and hips everyday to keep lower back pain at bay. In many small ways, over time, we build on what we know to be true for us. We apply what we’ve tested, tried out and and come to rely on through our own experience and use it to propel us forward.
Inside-out, Outside in
There is a wonderful paradox inherent in the nautilus. It is at once a symbol for constant change and evolution while at the same time being one of the most ancient, stable life forms, staying relatively unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.
This is reflected in our journey as yogis. Yoga teaches that, like the nautilus, we too are ever-evolving. And, that there is a core of unchanging perfection that lives within us as our deepest, truest essence. Our journey as yogis is both about knowing ourselves as we always have been, while at the same time evolving and expanding to make that awareness a more established and lived experience.
Imagine yourself seated at the center of the nautilus shell - the bindu, the seed point, the source place deep within yourself - beyond time and space, beyond name and form. From there, you move outward into life, while returning to the practices again and again. In this way you continue to feed and nourish yourself while at the same time embracing a more soulful, authentic way of living. This is living from the center outward.
As we evolve over time, we’re both getting to know our inner being more fully while at the same time hopefully, becoming happier and more fulfilled in our outer lives. This is the two-way movement of yoga sadhana. Like the spiral that expands outward from a center point, we are also always travelling back in to the source place, our most original sense of self, and taking the inner experience back into our outer lives.