Over the years so many of my close friends, family members and students have posed the question: “Why do you do yoga?” Or, “What do you feel like you’ve gotten out of all your years of practice?”
It always feels like a daunting task to answer these questions—to connect the dots for people so that stretching and breathing and sitting somehow mirror the copious benefits that I’ve identified through my experience. Partly because those pronouncements for me tend to lean towards the lofty, and partly because the practice itself is so foundational, I often fumble in attempting to convey its felt weight.
So I thought about it for a while and found five things…five gifts that yoga has given me over the years. Perhaps you’ll agree as a practitioner, or perhaps you’ll understand with a touch more clarity why we crazy individuals do what we do.
1. The appreciation of subtlety.
The amazing is visible everywhere. The fantastic is 99 percent invisible, hiding in the ordinary. We are enmeshed in a remarkable precision every day—the most simple things in our direct vicinity are just waiting to be seen in all their glory.
The world is made out of nuance and yoga trains us to be sensitive to these details. Finding the little fascinations with one’s own body and breath serve as the gateway for discovering sincere delight in the endless subtleties which lie everywhere. Then this curiosity guides us into a strong alignment with wonder. A wonder that describes the manner in which the arms and legs connect to the core of the body as completely remarkable. A wonder that allows the internal sensations of breath to be seen as the fundamental beauty that they really are.
When we begin to see detail all around us, all of our quotidian actions can become internally fresh and artistic. If we remain entirely awake while folding laundry or washing dishes, these tasks then serve as an embodiment of our most fundamental challenge to maintain a creative and connected presence. It’s almost impossible to be unsatisfied when the eye is connected to the tiny hidden gems which make up the objects we interact with all day. Yoga cures the boredom which results from a disconnection with subtlety.
Have you ever, perhaps while hiking or driving, or even playing golf, been for some reason compelled to take off your sunglasses and give them a really good wipe down? And then you put them back on and realized how totally shiny and amazing everything is and how much you were missing before the cleaning? That’s what yoga feels like.
We make weird shapes out of our bodies and then fill those shapes with a victorious breath. Organs are rinsed like wash cloths and every corner in the body is rushed with freshly oxygenated blood. Stagnancy is obliterated. Somehow along the way this cleanses the doors of perception. Eyes get cleaner and the attitude behind the eyes gets cleaner. One’s regularity becomes more accurate than the atomic clock.
3. A great proximity to the miraculous.
Right now we are tethered to a ball of dirt corkscrewing through space chasing the sun (a ball of flaming gas) through an infinite void traveling 250 kilometers per second. Holy shit.
Yoga teaches us to stop looking for something remarkable to happen to us so that we may realize that everything is remarkable. The practice serves by giving proper weight to the miraculous gift of life and provides us with a container to celebrate the pure magic of the human experience.
Problems, issues and annoyances are given root in the tapestry of sincere amazement. Amazement sometimes comes from nailing a handstand but, more frequently and importantly, comes from the visceral recognition that every moment, every interaction, every thought, emotion and sensation we have is an expression of a mysterious perfection.
It’s a miracle that your body comes with senses. And that these senses take in the outside world in an aesthetic enjoyment that can bring us to tears. It’s a miracle that our bodies can turn food into fuel. We don’t even have to think about it—it just happens. My god.
Have you ever really looked at a tree or a pencil, or a banana, or another person’s eyes? Have you ever marveled at the ability to have a conversation, or been struck by moving clouds reflecting light? Miracles. There is one byproduct of getting closer to the miraculous—gratitude. Gratitude ties us to fullness.
4. The ability to let go.
Things are always changing. Change is a bitch. Not just a bitch, but the bitch. It is the original source of suffering. As a species we have a fundamental problem that lies in our tendency to grasp at impermanent objects and relationships and solidify them within our framework of expectations and ideals.
Yoga allows us to see things and actually appreciate them as verbs instead of nouns. Nouns are static—they have no room for growth. They are constricted and bound by their definitions.
You know the feeling when an old friend who you haven’t seen for a long time expects you to act in a certain way in a certain circumstance? And you clearly feel that you outgrew that pattern years ago but somehow feel incapable of transcending it in the moment? There’s hardly a thing more stifling in life than to feel defined—to be pigeon holed or inescapably labeled as any one thing.
We feel liberated in our freedom to grow and evolve—to shine as vibrantly changing verbs throughout our journey as individuals.
When we hold onto assumptions in life, we essentially suffocate potential just like our old friend did when they expected us to behave in a certain way. Our expectations allow us to see only through the narrowest of lenses. Then, as it frequently happens, our expectations crumble.
Immediately following the feeling of being blindsided comes the invitation to recognize that in not getting our way we are afforded a great opportunity: a much wider viewpoint to see that suddenly things are brand new again. That the canvas is blank. That the possibilities are always endless. That letting go is letting live.
Yoga celebrates this dynamic of evolution. It holds our hand as we reluctantly begin to see that all things are a set of processes in constant flux.
When we take the shape of any yoga posture it becomes immediately apparent that there is no end point to it.
As soon as it feels perfect, a new moment unfolds, a new breath blossoms and with it is the reminder that we have to constantly let go and start over.
We are content and indivisible when we grant permission for things to remain as constant works in progress. The process of alignment is a tool so that we may learn to see human beings as a perfect process of becoming—over and over and over.
5. Ah yes, all the bubbly stuff.
Yoga makes us feel good. It makes us look good. It helps us make healthy decisions. It brings us into a felt connection with a community. It helps us laugh when we fall over and shows us how to share our triumphs with others.
It teaches us to stop taking ourselves so seriously, eat a goddamn piece of pizza, postpone the rest of our to-do list for tomorrow and enjoy a few hours of unproductive enjoyment of all the things which cannot be measured.
And of course, it smiles knowingly when we exercise our right to make a few unadulterated poor choices without apology.
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Assistant Ed: Karissa Kneeland/Ed: Bryonie Wise