Yogi Berra (May 12, 1925–September 22, 2015) is a baseball legend.
One of the sport’s great catchers, he was an American League MVP three times, and a New York Yankee champion in 10 World Series.
Berra is also famous for something known as circumlocution.
That may sound like something an advanced yoga practitioner can do with his or her body, but it is not. Circumlocution is defined as a roundabout or indirect way of speaking. Yogi Berra was a champ at this, too. His pronouncements have come to be known as yogisms, officially defined by the Urban Dictionary as “malapropisms…stating truth in a humorous manner, attributed to famous New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra.”
Yogi got his nickname because he looked, at least to someone, like a Hindu holy man. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that in addition to being truthful and funny, yogisms are surprisingly, well, yogic. For example:
“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”
Berra’s assessment of baseball applies to yoga as well. That difficult pose executed on a mountain cliff requires as much concentration and attitude as it does strength and coordination. The same is true for holding even the basic poses correctly, or for the endurance required for challenges such as hot yoga or vinyasa repetitions.
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
Yogi Berra was talking about rising prices or devalued currency here, most likely. Little did he know that his words are also apropos to aparigraha, the yama of non-possessiveness. Most yogis will tell you that as they go through their yogic journey, they, too find that money is worth less and less, in that it becomes less important and is found not to be able to buy the things that really matter, such as peace and contentment; in fact, obsession with money can be a distraction or even an obstacle when pursuing a life of simplicity.
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
Ishvara Pranidhana is mentioned often in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It literally translates to devotion or submission to a higher power. Finding one’s place relative to that higher power is the essence of humility.
Tapas, the third of Patanjali’s niyamas, is typically defined as discipline. In Sanskrit, tapas literally translates to burning or heat as discipline and austerity burn away impurities and create an increasingly skillful and accomplished practice.
As one advances in a yoga practice, both physically and mentally, the balance between pride and investment in one’s skill and achievements, and the humility of ishvara pranidhana, is critical.
“Even Napoleon had his Watergate.”
“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”
Doesn’t each of us have at least one yoga pose that we just can’t crack? I know in my case, there are quite a few such poses. Some (such as crow and stacked logs) I am picking away at and gradually getting closer to; others I have come to realize I will never be able to do (wheel, king pigeon, and headstand come to mind). It can be hard to accept being unable to do a pose, especially when others around you in a class can assume it with ease and grace. Accepting your own little Watergate and learning to let it go is the niyama of samtosha, or contentment and non-covetousness, in action.
“If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”
Yoga can be a bit like religion, recovery, or being on the gluten-free wagon; it makes the converted want to turn others into converts as well. Devoted yogis sense that there is something in yoga for just about everyone. Unfortunately, you cannot give yoga away to the uninterested any more than you can give religion, abstinence, or quinoa away to someone who doesn’t want it; take it from a loud and proud wheat-eater who knows. You can, however, live your beliefs and let that energy make its way through the universe. It may touch people in yogic ways that you will never know.
“If I didn’t wake up, I’d still be sleeping.”
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Either way, it’s savasana’s inevitable end, in a nutshell.
“How long have you known me, Jack? And you still don’t know how to spell my name.”— Yogi to announcer Jack Buck after Buck paid him for an appearance with a check made out to “Bearer.”
This may not apply to the most devoted and studious yogis, but it certainly applies to me when it comes to the names of yoga poses, in particular their Sanskrit names. “The one where you go like this,” followed by a demo, is my personal name for any and all poses whose English or Sanskrit names momentarily escape me when I am teaching a yoga class. I admit to a deficit in the niyama of svadhyaya, or study of sacred yogic texts, scriptures, and canon. And to a deficit in memory, which I blame squarely on lack of estrogen.
“I want to thank you for making this day necessary.”
Yoga classes typically end with a great big namaste from teacher to class, and a return of the same from class to teacher. Namaste means, literally, a bowing to the divine in others. However, it is one of those terms that has come to have a lot of meanings in a lot of contexts, and has common use as a greeting, a goodbye, a salutation, or an expression of gratitude. When I wrap up a yoga class with the word, I am acutely aware of an enormous thankfulness for my faithful yoginis, for the part of the day we have shared together, and for their part in making the class a positive experience for us all.
“Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.”
“What a house—nothin’ but rooms!” ~ Yogi Berra on his enormous Montclair, New Jersey mansion
It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of yoga: the super-thick, mat, the organically correct clothing, and the super-food or essential oil of the moment can all seem pretty important as they are talked-up around you. The same goes for up-to-date variations of yoga: yoga clinging on to silk ropes for dear life, yoga with a paddleboard lurching under your feet, or yoga in a 110 degree room can be made to seem like the Holy Grail by enthusiastic practitioners. Each of those trappings and each of those variations is awesome to someone, in fact, to quite a few someones, and that is cool.
Changing up and a sense of adventure are what makes the world and the business of yoga go around. Saucha, the niyama of purity and cleanliness, reminds us, though, to put the trappings and the fads in their proper place, and not to let them interfere too much with pure concepts of yoga, as given to us in the Eight Limbs by Patanjali.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
This rather famous bit of philosophy probably started out as plain old driving directions. The route to Yogi Berra’s residence was a bit complicated and included a circular road; the story goes that when the road forked, you could take it in either direction and still wind up at Berra’s home. Whatever the story behind the quote, it is yogic philosophy at its best. Be open to possibilities; know that there are many aspects to yoga, and that any one of them can be the one that opens up a new way of life for you; know that any two people can take somewhat different roads to enlightenment, but that each will eventually get there.
I hope you enjoyed these yogisms. If you found them too silly or insufficiently yogic, I can only add that Yogi Berra himself might have asked you, in his own words, to take them with a “grin” of salt.
Remembering Yogi Berra: The fork in the road. September 26, 2015. WBUR 90.9.
The best things Yogi Berra ever said. September 23, 2015. The Washington Post.
Author: JoAnn Spears
Image: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman