My friend Lynn spent 17 years living in Nepal and Zimbabwe with her husband, raising their daughters, studying Buddhism, teaching yoga and soaking up diverse cultures. When we met a year ago, I asked her that most common and most annoying of questions for a yoga instructor, “What kind of yoga do you teach?”
She leaned in and confided, “You may not have heard of it. It’s very obscure. I practice what’s called ‘yoga schmoga.'”
It clicked. I practice yoga schmoga too. I have been practicing it since age twelve; I just never knew what it was. I used to get so hung up on “what kind of yoga” I should do. Hatha? Vinyasa? Ashtanga? Kundalini? Bhakti? Now I see it’s all the same. And I’m proud to practice and teach yoga schmoga. Here are its eight main make-believe tenets. Namaste!
1. All you need is metta. Metta is the Pali word for lovingkindness. Metta means thinking, speaking and acting from your heart. Cultivating compassion for oneself and all beings leads to peace and harmony at every level of being. It’s deep empathy — genuine care for of all beings, including yourself. Metta is gently noticing the thoughts and emotions that surface in your mind with each pose. It is softness. It is love, friendship, goodwill, kindness. Each breath imbued with metta anchors you to the blissful experience of this present moment.
2. Practice is a must. Yoga practice “on the mat” is an ideal laboratory for study. If you’re beating yourself up while executing a challenging pose, that’s not yoga. If your ego is straining to push further, further, too far… that’s not yoga. If you’re sending malicious thoughts to the girl in the perfect handstand next to you — that’s definitely not yoga. Dropping judgment is one of the keys to authentic practice. The catch-22 of a strong spiritual practice is that once you have the practice established, cutting back is not recommended, and quitting can be detrimental. But, trust me, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties of the practice.
3. Yoga is all the time. You don’t “do” yoga. You “be” yoga. Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, “reunion” in the Tibetan language. Yoga asks: what are your patterns? What poses do you gravitate toward and shy away from? What is the universe trying to teach you? The yoga that is all the time is more than the physical yoga asana practice. It is mindfulness in motion. It is communication, relationship, sustenance, openness, strength. Practice may not make perfect in this lifetime, but it is the only thing that will illuminate you. What if you practiced yoga nonstop?
4. All things shall pass. Everyone has their own pain. We all share the same suffering. We love and hate, kiss and break hearts. It’s human nature. (We are humans in nature — how lucky we are.) All suffering works backward from a fear of death. Knowing that we will all pass away and that nothing lasts forever is what makes life sweet. No matter how foul or fabulous the mood, it is bound to pass. See new colors; taste strange fruits; push beyond your known and comfortable limits. Embrace inadequacy. Be gentle with yourself. There is no such thing as perfect balance. Mosquitoes will bite you. Everything will die.
5. Perfection is a myth. It’s great to be balanced but every now and then, break out of your rut. Shake things up. Be willing to risk. It’s okay to occasionally fall on your face. The things we find to moan about never cease to amaze me. (“I have a headache. I feel overwhelmed by my job. I am so unhealthy, tired, and lonely.”) Just like any other thought and feeling, most complaints are illusory. We might as well focus on what we’re grateful for. (“I was blessed to be born to a loving family in a safe, privileged country and to be given every opportunity for education, fulfillment and success.”) Strive for virtue but allow for failures. Be kind to yourself. As Dr. Seuss would say, you are the perfect you today.
6. Learning never stops. Soak up knowledge, add experience, get wisdom. Everyone is a teacher. Pay close attention. The precious people in our lives — from parents to partners to passersby — are mirrors for the best and worst in us. Be thankful for them. Express gratitude for your beating heart, your amazing lungs, the sun rising and setting each day. Listen to your intuition. Turn your attention inward. Moment to moment, as much as possible, follow your natural flow of energy: sleep when tired; eat when hungry; dance when you feel like it. Don’t fight to be something other than you are.
7. Balance self-awareness and self-acceptance. Know how you work and accept that you are in the right place at the right time. Remember that happiness is the journey and there is no final destination. Meditate for sanity, to become a beacon of peace, to get clear on your goals and dreams, to cultivate compassion, to surrender stress. Yoga’s effects are more magical and fast-acting than any pill, I promise. Meditation is the best medicine.
8. Be. Here. Now. Do one thing at a time with total awareness. Listen fully. Hear the nuances. When engaged in conversation, be present. Your undivided attention is the most valuable thing you can offer. The present is a gift. No matter what, we are on the path. With each inhale we turn into butterflies. With each exhale we release into spaciousness. Your only choice is to live in this present. Accept this gift. Whether you’re upset or irate, excited or frantic, breathe deeply to calm down. Take luxurious sips of air. Slow down. Enjoy equanimity. Find your balance.
Relax. It’s going to be okay, if not better!