Anybody can breathe.
Therefore anybody can practice yoga.
I was 22 and working full-time as an advertising copywriter. I landed my first yoga gig teaching at a downtown skyscraper on my lunch hour twice a week. One of the attendees happened to be a cute 26-year old guy. I’d never been romantically linked to a yogi before, and, once it was confirmed that the attraction between us was mutual, the notion became irresistible. Though I felt slightly immoral for getting involved with a “student,” I did it anyway.
The relationship turned out to be melodramatic and not very meaningful. So, in 2003, I eloped with Yoga. I decided I’d had enough of Austin, and it was time for me to shun advertising and embrace my true calling. So, I moved to California and did my best to forge ahead on the spiritual path. In the San Francisco Bay area, I began to study Buddhism and started a formal sitting meditation practice. I taught a beaucoup of yoga. I taught so much hatha that I began to, for the first time in my life, despise and resent Yoga. Our marriage was on the rocks. Even at the lowest points, though, I never quit… even if all I could muster some days was a tormented Child’s Pose.
I had quite the love/hate relationship with yoga for a while there. In the Bay area, there are too many gurus hawking fountain-of-youth products and services. Naturally, there are some fabulous teachers and some quacks. In my hometown of Austin, yoga teachers are multiplying like bunnies. The sheer amount of studios, trainings, workshops, retreats and classes is both mind-boggling and excellent for the evolution of humanity. I used to get so caught up in the “yoga-industrial complex,” as William Broad calls it. Was I part of the problem? Were people practicing Authentic Yoga? (Side note: I think I’m much happier as a maestra de yoga in Guatemala, in part because the yoga-industrial complex isn’t always in my face here… and thanks to my lineage, Yoga Schmoga.)
Something very strange happened in the summer of 2004. I fell in love. With a Christian. Fundamentalist. (Don’t ask; I was naive; it was weird.) That brief, intense relationship sufficiently confused and bewildered me. The guy was decidedly not a yogi. The one time he came to a class with me, the simplest of Sanskrit chanting freaked him out. Were we worshiping false idols? Is yoga a sin? When it was over, I found myself broke, broken and utterly depressed. Jesus did not save me. I felt I had no choice but to crawl back to Texas, defeated.
Upon my return, I spent a miserable year working in marketing, had a nervous breakdown, recovered, became a certified bilingual elementary school teacher, and bought a house. Survived another absurd relationship with another utterly unyogic man, whose chosen career involved coordinating the delivery of ammunition, weapons and other logistics for the Army National Guard. I fell for him and for his storyline: he’d been born into poverty in South America, spoke beautiful Spanish (and English), and had remarkable intuition. I survived the heartache, the stress, the anxiety and suffering of life only because I kept practicing, kept teaching yoga, kept meditating.
“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” ~Confucius
Like lots of people, I have been wronged many, many times. Enough to fill a book that will never be published. Romantic relationships seem to bring out the worst in me. I have bad luck or bad karma, or both. No matter how “yogic” the guy seems or claims or desires to be, nothing lasts. Am I the one escaping, or are they?
When all is said and done, I am back on the mat and the cushion. Content at times, crying at others. But energy is always in motion, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Sit with it. Stay. Heal. What’s the point of practice if not to learn from our mistakes, identify our patterns, uproot our detrimental habits?
Justice, they say, is what love looks like in public. I would argue that forgiveness is what love looks like in private. Yoga, above all, has taught me to forgive. Myself. Others. Everyone, slowly but surely. Here are some wonderful Buddhist mantras for practicing with forgiveness:
- For whatever harm I have caused others, may they forgive me.
- For whatever harm others have caused me, may I forgive them.
- For whatever harm I have caused myself, I forgive myself.
These days, nineteen years after my first encounter with yoga, I sigh a lot. I breathe deeply and consciously. And I feel more mindful and compassionate than ever… most of the time.
Whether I’m involved in a meaningful relationship with a man or not is not the most important thing. Sustaining my relationship with Yoga is critical. Living presently and learning from all people and all experiences is essential. With single-pointed commitment to the practice, I am getting better and better at not engaging in negativity. Yoga and me, we have a great Elationship. Yes, Yoga, I love you. Till death do us part.