the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.
Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.
But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.
~ from “The Trouble with Poetry” by Billy Collins
I used to think that the trouble with yoga was its Americanization, its being watered down and modified and marketed in the West. All I wanted to do was escape to India. Find peace and quiet and enlightenment in the Himalayas. (Later I went to India and discovered that peace and quiet and enlightenment are just as rare and precious there as they are here.)
Then I thought the trouble with yoga was Bikram. Copyright, competition, scripted classes. And the heat, my God, the heat!
Then I declared that the trouble with yoga stemmed from Yoga Journal and Lululemon and $80 yoga pants and the slick marketing of ridiculous, superfluous products such as yoga socks. Yes, clearly the trouble with yoga was its prohibitively expensive fashions and its exclusive exotic retreats catering to the rich and restless.
Now I see that none of that matters.
Yoga is for rich people and middle class people and poor people. Yoga is beyond class systems, beyond religion. It is asana (poses), pranayama (breathing), mindfulness, metta and so much more. It is a time to play, to wonder, to breathe and stretch, to cultivate self-love and body awareness.
Back in 2004, John Abbott, CEO of Yoga Journal said, “Yoga has become a cultural phenomenon and an integral part of the wellness trend in this country. All the data indicates a substantial growth in the number of practitioners over the next few years—a growth that I suspect will be sheltered from both a downturn economy and other world events, as people turn to yoga to help them cope with a changing world.”
He was right. Yoga has only become more popular (and more mainstream) in the past decade. We all come to yoga in our own ways. Books, videos, gyms, studios. Home practice. Sangha, kula, community.
It fills me with happiness to see all the karma yoga and seva service programs and projects popping up across the globe. It’s gradual. It can be grueling. It can feel like we’re doing nothing if you look at the big picture. But lots of little shifts are happening at the subtler, individual level. Changes may be invisible sometimes but the truth of impermanence reminds us that life is always in motion.
In reality, all you need to practice yoga are bare feet, an open mind and a desire for self-discipline.
The trouble with yoga is that once you start, you cannot go back. Your muscles will tighten, your mind will cloud, your soul will weep. The more you practice, the more you have to keep practicing.
Trust me. I learned the hard way just how detrimental quitting can be. I’ve experienced dark ages so riddled with anxiety and depression that I lost my will to practice.
I’d unroll my mat and end up in child’s pose after roughly twenty seconds of halfheartedly executing any other posture. I had lost my balance. I had misplaced my spark. Because yoga is not yoga when materialism, ego and attachment are blocking the way. Yoga is not yoga when you are beating yourself up on the inside, bashing your mind and body for being less capable than you wish you were.
Be kind to yourself. Follow these 8 terrific rules from the Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, California:
1. enjoy yourself
2. practice kindness
3. choose happiness
4. be a loving friend
5. laugh often
6. trust yourself
7. find the joy within
8. use your will to create good energy.
Consider yoga and mindfulness as your medication. Going off of it cold turkey and unsupervised is ill advised. Once you reach a certain turning point, you simply will not quit. You will practice morning, noon and night, and your practice may take on the form of traditional hatha poses as well as the form of compassionate action, active listening, mindful speech, and modeling kindness and presence to everyone in your sphere of influence. And that will be a beautiful day.