If you practice yoga, chances are someone is going to ask you what yoga is and why you do it. I have answered both of these questions time after time over the years and it never ceases to amaze me how much misinformation is circulating, based on stereotypes or without thinking.
I was talking to my brother a few weeks ago, expressing how great yoga would be for my niece who is a very flexible athlete. His response? “She’ll start yoga when she’s 50 and starts to slow down.” You would think I would have taken this opportunity to inform him of the various styles of yoga available, the mental and physical benefits of yoga for all ages, and the need for an athlete to balance sports strength and power with the flexibility and healing benefits of yoga—but I didn’t. Instead I sat there stunned.
I have been making friends with impermanence. It may sound silly, but after a profound meditation experience, I came face to face with the realization that I am a control freak, and while that control has helped me in some ways, it has also caused me much suffering. I’ve opened up to the reality that everything is in a state of impermanence — the seasons change, each day is different from the previous one, all living things grow, relationships change, the years go by.
At first this was rather scary to me, as it brought up all of my fears of the unknown. I wanted to hide in my usual pattern of planning in order to maintain some power over the future. Then it dawned on me: My life is in a much better place than it used to be, and that is due primarily to the moments over the past few years when I let go and went with the flow.
As any trend, person, ideology, etc. mounts in popularity, it can easily diverge from its original state.
Perhaps this is simply a flexibility that allows for such expansion and appeal to a broader audience. Perhaps it is an imminent fall from grace that occurs once the subject is spread too thin. Yoga today is a $27 billion dollar industry. This is big business and a number that reflects its quick rise in popularity.
There is a quote that sums up my experience heretofore with yoga better than anything else I’ve ever read. I don’t know from whom or where the quote came, or I would totally give the person mega props and a huge, bear-like, electronic hug. The quote goes a little something like this:
“My yoga practice is no longer the battlefield of a long-waged self-improvement project by an overachieving person. It has become what I always hoped it would be — a place for love and acceptance.”
I think this quote embraces the yoga journey for many of us, because let’s be real here: How many of us started yoga because we wanted a thinner waist and perky yoga butt? How many of us, in the beginning, saw yoga as something we would conquer rather than embrace? How many of us saw someone in Crow Pose and said to ourselves, “I can do that shit.”
Over time, however, as we dove deeper into our practice — no doubt bumbling, grunting and falling along the way — our hardened layers begin to peel away, and we were left with the lingering feeling that yoga is something more than a way for us to gain strength, flexibility and balance. As we emerged from Savasana, time and time again, we began to realize that something else — something besides exercise — is going on here.
Ever felt yourself going through the motions of a yoga pose without focus or purpose? I think most yogis who’ve been practicing for a while have this experience, at least sometimes.
Several years ago, I found myself rushing through the Sun Salutation, praying for the series to end so I could move on to asanas I enjoyed more. I hated the way the pose strained my wrist and left me breathless, and it seemed to take forever to get through five or six of them. But since appreciating whatever you’re doing is a key spiritual teaching, I knew I had to do something to change my perspective.
Pain, numbness, tingling? Do any of these describe the feelings you have when you come out of an asana? Please heed these warnings! Not all yoga poses are safe for all people. Just follow expert yoga teacher Patricia Sullivan’s story in the October 2010 issue of Yoga Journal. She painfully details a journey of denial in which her headstand caused (yes, caused) crippling nerve pain that eventually culminated in her falling asleep at the wheel and driving off the road into a lagoon.