I get up at 4:30 every morning to practice yoga.
No one makes me get up. I practice alone, so there’s no one to compete with (consciously or subconsciously), except myself. And that’s not even competition; it’s exploration, discovery.
I’ve always had a penchant for discipline, but I was never an athletic person before yoga. I was a shy, frightened, chubby kid who was good at school and bad at pretty much anything extracurricular. I liked books. I liked order.
I found yoga and, long story short, I found a (healthy) outlet for my discipline. That was 10 years ago. Did it suck at the beginning? Hell, yes. Dragging my weak (in my mind) body through the postures was exhausting. Because I judged every moment and wondered when the hell I’d be done, the practice seemed endless.
But I had faith. No one wants to be a beginner, but hey! Too bad. Everyone has to be a beginner and the only reason you envy your neighbor’s practice is because they had the drive to work through the beginner-itis. You don’t envy their flexibility or their body. You envy their willingness to look silly, to fall down, to be a student and to be at peace in that role.
Universal truth: in the beginning, it is always dark (a truth stolen from an all-time fabulous movie). Always. Nothing you can do about that but move through it.
That ability to move through the uncomfortable bits? That’s discipline. That’s what yoga brings into our lives. All this stuff about ‘yoga bodies’ and beautiful form? Well, being a yoga teacher and observant of satya (truthfulness), I won’t say that a stronger body isn’t a lovely bonus of a disciplined yoga practice.
And, even if that was the impetus that got you on the mat, it won’t survive a 10-year practice. It won’t survive the two-hour pre-dawn sadhana after which you need to rub arnica on your limbs and soak in a hot bath. What does survive? New-found self-worth, the new-found ability to breathe your way through any crap life throws at you.
Suddenly, the shy chubby girl can walk into a room of strangers and demand their attention (if needed). I mean, what’s harder, really, than waking up at 4 a.m. and convincing yourself to get up again and practice again on a day when you really, really don’t want to? Not a whole heck of a lot.
As my teacher Hari Jap always said, “Yoga gives you a bag of tools; use them.”
A true yoga practice—whether you’re alone or in a class—is one in which you are focused on the internal body. And hey, guess what’s in there? Lots and lots of darkness. Demons. Lies. Self-delusion/hatred. Whatever you want to call it. A true yoga practice will stir those bad boys up and when that happens (and it will happen) you have two choices: you face them and breathe through the whole lot, or you give up and walk away.Photo: Thomas Leuthard
Either choice is fine. No judgment. Your journey is where you are right now and sometimes we can’t confront the dark side. That’s okay. But if discovery truly is your path then your desire to climb up out of yourself will come back; you’ll get back on the mat.
I think we could all use this catharsis. We live in a self-indulgent culture. We don’t want our children to suffer, so we devise ‘competitions’ in which everyone gets a prize (so my friends who are parents tell me). Self-worth is good. Feeling like you’ll always succeed or that you always deserve to succeed? I don’t think that’s healthy.
How is accomplishment ever truly achieved if we don’t know how to deal with failure? If we don’t know how to step back, to re-assess? We need objectivity; we all have weaknesses and strengths. Denying that denies our humanity. Yoga puts these strengths and weaknesses in high relief and we have no choice but to deal with them.
We get into a pose. We feel awesome, the ego rejoices. We fall out of a headstand and we feel humbled. We’re reminded of our humanity. Without failure, we will never learn how to be better.
Long story short (ha!), I am grateful for every yoga ‘celebrity’ who has brought yoga into the public eye. I don’t care about short shorts, dyed hair, makeup, social media. Quit judging and just start practicing. (Full disclosure, I’m one of those yogis who love Kino MacGregor.)
In my humble opinion, thank god for social media—it is our generation’s platform for revolution. And if the next one is a yoga revolution? Fantastic. I don’t care how it’s spread. So what if we start out with materialism? That’s the access point to the world at large, after all. After a few months on the mat, the material slips away as the dark core—all that matters, really—is revealed. And in the end, it’s your struggle with yourself, that struggle over the dark side of the peace and love yoga moon, that will bring you into the light.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel