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.