May 14, 2011

Why Yoga Will Not Fix Your Broken Life. ~ Julie (JC) Peters

Photo: smittenkittenorig

Ah, the life of a yoga teacher. Sometimes, after my breakfast of green tea and quinoa flakes, while backbending through double rainbows or meditating with cherry blossoms falling on my face, I wonder about those poor people who don’t do yoga.

It must be so awful to have feelings, and sometimes be constipated.

No, I don’t really do that. Many days, I wake up to a mug of delicious coffee (with almond milk), sit down at my computer, and look out the window in case of double rainbows (usually there are none). Some days, I wake up feeling sad or lost or angry or confused (though not usually constipated; I’m a mindful flexitarian). Some days are tough, no matter how hard you hit your mat. But I do thank my sweet agnostic stars for yoga. And not because it actually fixes anything.

Regardless of what people may try to sell you, yoga is not the solution to the problems in your life. It doesn’t make you any less vulnerable, it doesn’t guarantee you won’t fail, it doesn’t make you stop feeling pain, even (especially) if you succeed at that common yogic directive to “open your heart!”. If anything, you become more sensitive when you practice yoga.

Photo: lululemon athetica

That well-known Buddhist precept of detachment doesn’t mean not having feelings. It means letting go of the fruits of your labour, of what you have no control over. It still sucks that Stephen Harper won a Conservative majority on May 2nd, no matter how much you drink.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

For me, my yoga practice is this little, mat-sized life raft. It teaches me to listen with my guts and the deepest wells of my poor imperfect heart. To understand that when I listen to my breath, I am learning that life is a huge body of moving water. It ebbs and flows and waves and currents and sometimes takes you with it. That you can paddle yourself in certain directions, and surf big waves, but that sometimes undertow is stronger than you. That it is scary to let go, but that it can feel good to let the current take you.

I have no idea where this river is going. I’m just grateful I have a raft.

Humans have always been particularly adept (and interested in) controlling our environments. We cut down forests for shelter, we created “air conditioning”, we build dams and bridges. We’ve even started trying to control our own nature with drugs (and that with limited success). Our brains have been so useful to us, and they are the reason our species has survived and flourished so well.

Trouble is, our brains are not the smartest (nor the only) part of us. The brain’s job is, in part, to make shit up. For example, There is a little gap in our vision where the optic nerve runs out from the eye. This is a blind spot, we can’t perceive any light here, but the brain assumes based on surroundings what’s probably there and fills in the blank with something imaginary that makes the most sense. Our brains are good storytellers. Good liars, too.

Perhaps the problem with trying to control our own nature is that we have many places of intelligence: deeper wells, like the heart and the guts. Your digestive system is actually full of neurons, thinking right along with (or sometimes, against) your brain. It’s not called a “gut feeling” for nothing.

Rumi puts it this way:  Let your body’s doings speak openly now, without your saying a word, as a student’s walking behind a teacher says, This one knows more clearly than I the way.

Your brain will fail completely to ever make certain decisions for you. Situations can be analyzed and rationalized, but they can’t “feel” right in your brain.

The body knows differently.

That being said, gut feelings are not always righteous or convenient. Just because we are yogis doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain or desire or depression or frustration. But when we step onto our raft, we remember that we are a part of something way bigger than us. We can’t “air-condition” the religious right, the fact that war exists, falling in love, breaking up, disappointing our parents, that Stephen Harper exists, or much else. But we can keep being human beings with skin, and good ones too. We can listen to all of our intelligences and make better choices and be honest and smart. We can humble ourselves to the river that flows on with us, and without us.

So I’m going to keep on keepin’ on with my little raft. I’m learning to surf on this thing.


Julie (JC) Peters has been practicing yoga on and off from the tender age of 12, and it has gotten her through everything from the horrors of teenagedom to a Master’s degree in Canadian Poetry. She teaches creative and dynamic vinyasa flow, calm and fluid Hatha, meditative Yin yoga, and fiery core strength classes. Julie owns East Side Yoga Studio in Vancouver with Coco Finaldi, and is also a freelance writer and spoken word poet.

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