The trouble with yoga.

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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.

~ fromThe 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.

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About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home base since 2012 has been Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in an eco cabin with her Colombian partner, daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written several inspiring books, with more on the way. Michelle's lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma teachings, pranayama, yin, mindfulness, mantra and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat!


9 Responses to “The trouble with yoga.”

  1. Rebecca says:

    I LOVE this piece. This is Yoga. And it is a beautiful day. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Enjoyed this very much, Michelle.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  3. yoga-adan says:

    a great thought, and true i think:

    "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."

    my feeling is, the only thing missing, is replacing, in understanding at least, the word yoga with fitness –

    because the above quote is true for any mindful participation in any fitness activity, dance, resistance work, jogging, swimming, etc

    the other good news, i take the fusion of fitness into yoga as good news 😉 is, according to fitness certifiying agencies like AFAA, like other fitness activities, the return-curve to wellness, after laying off or being unable to "practice," is much swifter than the initial work getting fit or toned etc

    who knows, maybe the same thing applies to a return-curve to goodness – i hadn't thought of that before 😉

    nice article, thanks so much

    • yoga freedom says:

      Adan, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that you could exchange "yoga" for other types of fitness… though yoga does have a nice ring to it. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.
      Namaste, Michelle

  4. Cat says:

    Glad the idea of 80$ yoga pants is LOL to someone else, too. My sister won't try the practice of yoga(she is a U.S. Marine) because she says it is too expensive between the cost of classes, mats and clothing. I have yet to convince her otherwise.

  5. camella nair says:

    Lovely Michelle.
    I think we all get 'spiritual indigestion' at various stages in our lives.Maybe because life shouts and inner peace whispers from deep within. I am happy to say that both my kids went to Living Wisdom School. Its a super place to really help kids grow to their best potential.

  6. jenifer says:

    thank the Yoga that someone wrote about the trouble with yoga being the trouble with yoga and not pointing fingers at teachers, styles, and normal criticisms. criticisms are valuable in fine tuning and staying true, btu when it comes down to it, the trouble with yoga is that you just have to keep doing it. yeah. 🙂

    thanks for this. i feel uplifted because i dig my practicing. 😀

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