April 20, 2011

How Can I Learn to Live My Yoga?

Photo: I Buried Paul

I was standing in my kitchen eating a yogurt thinking about how I had to go grocery shopping, among a myriad of other things.

Photo: Striatic

We were planning to move in just a couple of weeks and I was procrastinating. As usual I put off the big things that loomed over me,  for easier things like sweeping the floor that was forever covered with bits of sand and dirt leftover from the winter. I stood looking around at all that had to be packed, and then at the fridge. It was covered with a lot of magnets advertising for plumbing and real estate companies, drawings from my five year old and in the top right corner a little cutout that said “Learn to live your yoga”.

I don’t remember when I first saw it or where I got it from (probably a magazine). But even though it’s something worthy to display at a glance, I read it over and over again wondering what it really means.

I think about yoga (at least the type of Western yoga that we are most familiar with, that of hatha or the physical postures) in two parts. To me, this yoga is part physical — used to strengthen the body, and part philosophical, which gets a little fuzzy for me, as the scriptures date back to thousands of years ago (and then there’s the Patanjali character who I am trying to wrap my head around).

But more than that, what I really want to know is,

What is it about the practice of yoga and these shapes we put our bodies into that gives us a new perspective?

What is it about being on a mat that makes taking breaths and moving in and out of positions bring us to a point where we are like, “before yoga I was this, and after is so much better.”

Even people who do not have a “yoga education” boast of its effects that they swear by — the release they get; now if only they could get to classes more often, they say.

The first night of my teacher training in 2007 I climbed up the stairs of the studio, never having been there before, and armed only with the idea that after completion I would be able to lead a class on my own just like the teacher in the handful of classes that I had taken.

I got to the top where you sign in, and saw a guy standing there in a white robe. He had graduated from the program the year before and I had actually talked to him via email when I was inquiring about where to get certified. I started talking as my nerves took over, and I asked him what to expect the first night.

I had my mat (brand new and ripe with that rubbery stink) and wasn’t sure if I would even need it or not. He said I had everything I needed and that he was jealous. He said that I was about to take the journey of a lifetime and that I would be different afterwards.

“Yoga,” he said, “changed my life.”

I asked him how, and he replied, “How could it not?” At this point I thought he was speaking in riddles, and  just moved along to sign my name and find a spot in the crowded room.

Photo: Family MWR

Today I wish I could go back through that training all over again; relive the experiences of fumbling through my first classes, and slowly finding my own style of teaching. It has gotten easier, and at times when I’m not wondering about it, I get hit directly with this sense of what it’s all about — life, yoga etc. Then, as quick as it came, it’s gone. And I’m confused all over again.

I wonder, what is it about yoga? Just simple yoga in a room on a mat, maybe with a bunch of other people squatting, pushing, standing, bending backwards, twisting, that makes me feel (at times) like a more complete person? Do people get this sense after an aerobics class? Or a marathon? After a brutal spinning class?

I’ve done all of the above and dabble in each from time to time (okay maybe the marathon was a one-time thing so far, but I stand by my thoughts) but don’t necessarily feel that inner peace that lunges and shoulder stands create. Is it in my head because so many articles and conferences and workshops have filled my head that yoga is good? Or is it in my head because the enchantment of yoga has just worked for whatever reason it works?

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

I would love to know what it is about this huge thing called yoga that makes me want to practice again and again and read more about it, and spread the word about it. I feel like since I started the teacher training program, and am keeping steady with my home practice, that this yoga has become a part of me that I can’t live without — almost like underwear or really good novels.

I finish the yogurt and write it on the list for the grocery store. I peel off the “Learn to live your yoga” and stick it to my journal to remind me to think about it some more. But first,  maybe I should define for myself what my yoga is.

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