A Glimpse of the Possible…

Today started in a typical Wednesday way with a yoga class.  I was a little apprehensive about it, because the usual instructor is on maternity leave and a yogi that I had been in classes with was taking over.  I knew he was very strong and flexible from observing him in class (yep, when I’m supposed to be paying attention only to me), so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to catch up.  I’ve also been a little off lately physically, with a buggered up knee/foot and some extra fatigue.  But, I pushed aside my excuses (barely) and headed for class.

I’m not going to tell you that it was my best class ever; it wasn’t.  I was pretty stiff and not very agile and finding it not always easy to keep up with the rapid pace and still have any sense of form at all.  And yet, right in the middle of class, upside down with my hands on the floor and my feet on the wall (picture a wobbly upside down L), I found myself grinning like some sort of loon, happy as could be about what my body could do – even in the face of what it couldn’t.  I wasn’t completing any pose perfectly, and some were far from the goal, but I was there and breathing and trying and it felt good.

Wouldn’t it be great to always be in that place – to just live in the body and enjoy what it can do and be instead of critiquing what it is not?  It’s a possible that seems truly wonderful to me.  And, having read a recent article that indicated that exercise probably isn’t good for weight loss (and may even cause some gain), perhaps this is part of the true value of finding some sort of physical activity that speaks to you.  When we engage in a physical effort that we enjoy – much like children skipping or playing hopscotch – we appreciate our bodies for what they are and can do, instead of depreciating them for what they are not and can’t.  In a culture where the female (and to larger and larger degrees, the male) body is primarily viewed from an external stance as an object of viewing pleasure, anything that pulls us out of that framework and pushes us to love our bodies, each unique and wonderful and valuable and accomplished, has to be a good thing.

My body-happy moment is yoga.  What is yours?

Yoga Rules

Those of you that know me well know that I am a rule follower.  But, I’m an odd rule follower…  I tend to follow the “meta-rules” and not the specific “do this” sort.  So, for appearance, I follow the “Be true to yourself” rule, but then don’t follow the “women should have nice pretty hair” rule.  Today, I’ve decided to talk about yoga rules, and why yoga rules.

From the outside, it may seem like yoga is full of rules.  And certainly, you will find that individual classes or studios may have specific rules (wear a shirt, no shoes inside, don’t enter after class starts, no children under X).  However, most of the other “rules” of yoga are more like recommendations, which are all then bound by the larger meta-rules that make up the practice.  Lately, I’ve been really working on adjusting my own specific rules about yoga (and life) to be more in line with these larger meta-rules.

Yoga is about the uniting of the body, breath, and mind – This meta-rule is an important one, because it’s very easy to get so focused on the body that the other things get lost.  I’m not going to lie; I like the fact that I can actually see muscles in my arms and shoulders now and my belly is darn solid.  But, that’s not the underlying purpose of yoga.  Realizing and believing this is actually a relief, because it helps to decrease the pressure to do a really kickass high strength and cardio class every day and encourages the yogi to consider what the body, breath, and mind need at that moment instead.

Anyone can practice yoga – Again, this is a meta-rule that may not be obvious at first.  When I got my very first yoga DVD, several years ago, I watched a morning yoga class (20 minutes) with Rodney Yee and thought, “Hey, I can do that!”   Then I watched an evening yoga class with Patricia Waldron and thought, “Oh, I am so screwed!”  At that time, there was no way I could even sit in a “comfortable cross legged seat,” let alone begin to think about a wheel pose.  Eventually, I learned that, because the “rules” of each pose are fully adaptable to the individual yogi, I could get through a session by making the adjustments that my body needed at the time or substituting poses that were suitable for me.

The breath is primary – I recently was reminded of this meta-rule with force when I started taking in person classes instead of just online sessions.  Over several years of online sessions, I had gotten pretty good at moderating my breath, but that was partly because the instructors at Yogatoday.com frequently remind you to breathe (inhale… exhale) and tell you which type of breath might be most appropriate to the asana.  In class, the instructor didn’t do that, and I realized about 45 minutes in that I had been holding my breath most of the time.  Not only did I not accomplish the uniting of breath, mind, and body in that session, but I actually created tension and pain in the body and stress in the mind by holding my breath.  It’s a good meta-rule to remember.

It’s about you and no one else, and where you are now and nowhere else – I’ll let you in on a little secret… I can be kind of competitive.  It’s mostly competition with myself – I want to be the very best at whatever I do.  But, of course that requires some sort of comparison for judgment.  This too, I was very quickly reminded of when beginning classes with a “live” peer group.  At home, I was the yoga mama.  I rocked the yoga mat.  No one else in the house was as yogi as me.  Then I went to class and immediately got too focused on what everyone else was doing and where they were in their practice (she can put her head ALL the way on the floor and mine is hanging at knee height… I clearly suck).  Again, I was preventing myself from truly experiencing the benefits of yoga by refusing to be in my body and to meet my body where it was, instead of trying to make it be something else.  After a couple of actual physical injuries sustained from pushing far beyond my edge, I’ve (temporarily, I’m sure) learned this lesson.

Yoga truly begins when you leave the  mat – I love the 30, 60, 90 minutes a day that I spend on the yoga mat.  It makes me feel good physically and mentally.  I sweat in a good way… I stretch myself physically… I calm my mind from the usual maelstrom of “to dos” and “must fixes.”  But, above and beyond what happens during the yoga session is what happens when I leave the mat.  I believe that yoga makes me a better person.  I feel calmer, kinder, more easy on myself and others.  I think I yell less (you’ll have to check that with the spouse, kids, and pets) and smile more.  I’m more appreciative of what others can do and less judgemental about what they cannot.  And, I think I see more “kinds” of beauty in the world and in the people around me.

So, these are my yoga rules and why, for me, yoga rules.

Namaste