It’s about how Americans are ruining the ancient practice of yoga and how Yogaglo wants to patent the idea of filming students doing yoga in a room.
It’s about the turn of the century and Pierre Bernard, “The Great Oom,” first Westerner to introduce yoga to lots of people in the United States, and Patanjali (or, “Guru G,” if you’re Gwneyth Paltrow).
It’s about caves and ashes, tight pants and hybrid gym offerings, it’s about inner peace and crazy egos in disguise.
It is the unfathomable, mercurial and amorphous thing that yoga was , is, and is becoming—and like many truths, the lovely essence of it is being leeched out by the righteous, by those who need to encapsulate things in order to feel safe and by the companies that want to sell us everything from headbands to toe-less socks.
Ah, I am so sick of it all! And not just trying to pin down what yoga is or isn’t (I know what it is—it is the sacred and joyful bringing together of all the pieces of the self and all the pieces of the universe, for however long we can manage it in whatever way we can).
It’s trying to pin down and articulate what I am. Am I smart or dumb? Spirit or body? Words or colors? (I am all of these things– we all are.)
Last week, I arrived at my studio very early to meet with one of my private students. I got everything organized: unrolled mats, arranged bolsters, lit candles, turned on some music. As I always do while I wait for my clients I sat down in front of our Buddha statue and meditated. I prayed for a fruitful session and then cleared my mind and listened to my breath.
I meditated patiently, only opening my eyes when it seemed an unusual amount of time had elapsed. I looked at the clock, and it was 15 minutes after our class start time. My client is rarely late. I checked my phone to see if he had left a message—nothing there. I wandered aimlessly around the studio wondering what to do. Should I organize some paperwork? Mop? Work on writing a new sequence? Read my dogeared copy of the Sutras?
One of my favorite songs came on the playlist I had chosen, and I decided to simply move. Breathe in, breathe out, stretch and twist, gazing up at my fingertips, down at my toes. I arched into a graceful warrior and stayed there, not because I was supposed to, but because the beauty of the pose captivated me.
When I disassembled it, I savored every tiny flexion and extension which took me from the sky to the earth and into a luxurious pigeon, a pigeon infinitely folding in on itself, flattening, opening, releasing. From pigeon a low lunge grew, and then a high lunge with arms thrown wide which tipped over into an elegant half moon.
On and on the poses came, organic, fully expressed, vivid and unselfconscious. Handstand, dolphin, child’s pose, downward facing dog—I made these shapes as if they were preordained, written in my bones, my body calling out to me, Dance! Love! Move!
No teacher, no student, no self recrimination, no doubt—just joy and integration, pure joy, breathing in and breathing out.
I’d forgotten entirely about my absent client and only remembered when my yoga muse released me from savasana that I had been here for another purpose. I never wanted to move from that holy floor, cool on my warm body, everything—for once—exactly as it should be in my mind, my heart, my skin.
As my consciousness returned to me I wondered, can this be my practice? Can I do this when I want, where I want and can it be enough? Can I trust myself to teach myself and to listen to my own internal voice?
I smiled wide. I knew the answer. This revelation wouldn’t make me any money or change the world or win me prizes or international recognition—it would only change me.
“This will be my yoga now,” I whispered, sending love to all the parts of my body that I have tortured for not being small enough or bendy enough or young enough or anything enough.
When finally I made my way to the front of the studio to check my phone one last time to see if my student had messaged me, I found this text;
“Trapped in a meeting. Can’t come today. Will make it up to you. I’m sorry.”
I gathered my things, shut off all the lights and walked out the front door. Everything happens for a reason, I thought, every single thing in this great big, chaotic, confusing, compelling, beautiful world. I would never tell my student what a gift his absence was—how could I? But it was a gift all the same, and if he pays attention, when next he meets me, he will know without my saying it that there’s nothing to forgive.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/ Jasmine Kaloudis