When Yoga Can Be Yoga
I’ve been practicing yoga for about 10 years, the last four years on a very regular basis. I recently finished yoga teacher training. I love yoga. So much. Nowadays, instead of throwing my back out every time I sneeze or bend over to pick up a pencil, I just go ahead and sneeze or pick up a pencil. Sometimes both! In rapid succession!
Thanks to yoga, I have guns. Big ole muscle def’ in my arms. I love it. It’s almost as rad as being a 120-pound 18-year-old, and since I’ll never be 120-pound anything ever again, I’ll take the guns.
And then there are the emotional benefits. Yoga taught me to focus on my breath, which taught me how to focus on the moment I am in. Which brought me to meditation, which brings me peace and patience. Patience with myself. Patience with the douche-bag who bonked me with his cart at the grocery store. Patience and a quiet(er) mind. If I am having a hard day, a good restorative class is like an hour-long hug around my heart.
My aura is cloudy, my chi is off balance, my brain chakra is … blackish purple.
In the many classes I’ve been to, I’ve usually tuned out the mystical talk some instructors throw around because I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that performing a backbend is going to open my heart chakra, which in turn will make me not want to punch the douche-bag who just bonked me with his cart in at the grocery store. I don’t get into downward dog with the specific intent of grounding my “root chakra” so I can trust that my supervisor won’t dork up my schedule again.
Yoga, for me, is about strength, flexibility, focus and meditation.
Does it hurt to believe that getting into headstand gives one a third eye for better intuition? Meh. (Though I bet it’s harder to find glasses. Am I right?!)
I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say, “Yoga changed my life!”
The only statement that will make me cringe harder is, “Yoga is for everyone!”
We don’t know that. We only know what it does for us. It is okay not to yoga. You will still go to heaven. Or not, if you’re atheist. Yoga is not a religion. Or a pill. Or something that can save Everyone from Everything.
Why should it have to be? It can still be awesome.
As a reporter, I once interviewed a woman who claimed that yoga cured her cancer. She was an instructor, a daily practitioner, and I don’t think she’d worn anything but yoga pants, shawls and a nose ring in 20 years. She was a gorgeous, convincing little yogi/hippie evangelist. I was enamored.
I pasted her on the front page of the weekly paper I wrote for and reported all that she had to say without question. What a schmuck I was to do that—to fail to question the claim she had made. If the article caused some people to take up yoga, that is great. But if it caused a cancer patient to drop his or her treatment in favor of yoga, then I could have caused real damage.
Why didn’t I question it? Because I wanted to believe it was possible. She had that glowy, flowy yoga sheen to her. She had an answer to the terrible question of cancer, and I wanted to believe it.
Is yoga a religion? A cure for terminal disease? A pathway to ditching all your character defects, embracing veganism and finally being able to decide on the perfect shoulder tattoo?
But not for all. And when go around saying yoga is the answer to every question, we just alienate those people who already have doubts about it.
Always question what you are told. By any instructor. By anybody who claims to have answers. Use your brain chakra. Take what you need from yoga, what makes sense to you, and leave the rest. Yoga doesn’t have to be the answer to everything to still be awesome.
And if you are on the outside of yoga looking in, please know that it doesn’t have to be a life-changing event for you to be doing it right. Or magical. Or medicinal. It can just be a way for you to stretch, move, test yourself without competition or judgment, or learn to meditate.
And get a pair of wicked awesome guns.
Caroline Burau is a freelance writer and yoga instructor in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and author of Sugarfiend and Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat. You can also follow her on www.carolineburau.com and Twitter (@carolineburau).
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