In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. ~ Yogi Berra
I’m a lover of words, ideas and theories.
At the same time, I accept that words are mere symbols—fingers pointing at the moon—and therefore limited constructs.
I’m a lover of yoga but have often felt that the word “yoga” has been hijacked, especially in recent years. Yoga is a mainstream thing now, not to mention a multi-billion dollar industry and market.
For many, “yoga” conjures up images of Hindu gods and goddesses like Ganesh and Krishna; group chanting; lotus posture; colorful flowing scarves; spacey, New Agey people (mainly women); and, last but not least, yoga pants.
The way the idea of “Texas” conjures up cactus and cowboys on horses for people who have never been there.
I often have a love/hate relationship with yoga. (And Texas, but that’s another story.)
I have let go of the philosophy of practice makes perfect, in favor of practice makes progress.
My Own Personal Yoga
I’ve been practicing, on and off…for lifetimes, I think. This go round, I started in 1993. I was in the middle of middle school. I learned hatha yoga from a popular 1969 photo-illustrated guide book by a guy named Richard Hittleman. In the year 2000, I rented my first apartment and started practicing with my roommate, Amanda, a few times a week. I took my first yoga class at the gym when invited by my ad agency coworkers.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I have taught hundreds of classes to thousands of yogis over the course of the past 13 years, and what an interesting/strange trip it has been. I became a “full-time” yoga teacher in 2003, when I upped and moved to Palo Alto, California to live the dream.
I taught up to 12 yoga classes per week, a rate I found totally unsustainable, mainly because it involved teaching in too many cities across the Bay area and in Silicon Valley. I fell into and out of love but just into debt. The dream ended in that certain brand of intense heartbreak and utter despair that best characterizes my early twenties.
Still, I’ve never contemplated divorce from yoga; I’ve always remained loyal.
I love to practice. I love to share the practice with others.
Meeting the Buddha on the Road
Although California did not become the land of my dreams, I am most grateful to the Golden State for introducing me to the Buddha. Living in Mountain View, I started sitting with a Zen group.
I took a solo Zen retreat for a few days at a magical place called Green Gulch Farm. I would rise early and sit with the black robed monks facing the white wall, and bow and walk slowly at the ring of the bell. For my karma duty, I chopped onions in the kitchen wearing goggles. I spent my afternoons strolling through the gardens and to the cliff overlooking the stunning Pacific coast. In the evenings, I would sit through a discourse on the Dharma, barely understanding anything.
I have self-identified with several spiritual/religious labels in my life. I was “raised Catholic.” I have self-identified as Zen, Christian, Catholic Buddhist, secular Buddhist, agnostic and apathetic. I have, at times, wished that I was Jewish. And Canadian.
I have come to realize that I am not Buddhist, I am a Buddha.
What is “practice”? What is not practice?
1. Nothing is not practice.
2. We have our formal practice of hatha yoga, or mindfulness, or whatever, and we have our “informal” practice of life. We have our meditation and our “postmeditation.”
3. Formal practice is important. Essential. Sit down and shut up. Learn to concentrate the mind. Delve into the practical techniques of meditation. Gain insight and humility.
4. Just as essential is “informal” practice: how we carry ourselves in the world. How we speak, eat, act, drink, look, see.
5. The best is when boundaries are blurred, when formal and informal collapse into one. When work is play and play is work. Passion plus compassion.
6. Enlightenment is not an epiphany. It’s simply being absorbed in the moment and in the paradox of life: that all is one and the same yet each is separate and unique.
7. Keep doing your yoga schmoga, whatever it may look like. Keep being you, whoever you are. And realize that ultimately, we’re all made of the same stuff and headed toward the same end.
8. Practice or don’t practice. Everything is practice!
Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Ada Juristovski