I’ve been an athlete of some sort for most of my life. I’ve always loved graceful movement for it’s own sake. As an ice skater, my worst skate ever was the one during which I competed. You can’t skate on knees made of jelly. The thing was, my skating was meant for me alone. When deep inside, moving with the music, I was light as a feather, hearing my breath, floating, and I could even say, being floated by my body. It was the same thing as a tennis player. I never wanted to play a game. I loved hitting for the dance. And during the dance, I was lost in my breath and the rhythm and there was nothing in the world except the soft sounds and floating with them.
When I landed in a yoga class with a teacher who had the grace to let his students have their own experience, whatever that was, I was at home immediately. If you’re lucky enough to find Bhakti Yoga (devotion) in your early studies, what might otherwise be arduous, becomes something you thirst for, enough to want to move through the obstacles including physical, mental and spiritual challenges. And devotion does not infer mindless service to anyone. It means mindful kindness to your self and everyone who’s path you cross.
You see Yoga has this secret which can only be seen from the inside out, meaning- it can only be had by the actual experience. And we humans tend to be so resistive to learning anything new for how vulnerable that makes us– nose to nose with our imperfections. And so most of us need to have an experience for quite some time before we can breathe it all the way in and give it the space to grow. I’m grateful I’d had a piece, like a seed of the secret already planted by other movement arts and teachers before I got there, so that it was at least, recognizable
The yoga secret is in it’s inherent power to take you away and turn your lights on inside. If you aren’t coming from a sport or an art form where you’ve experienced some of that through another lens, it can be a rough ride off the starting line. You get consumed and frightened by all the directions that the teachers spout out like they’re normal. There are, and will always be folks who are more accomplished than you, but somehow at the beginning, it can feel like that’s all you can see; people who look like they’re natural born gumbies breathing deeply with ease. They look and feel like they’re actually comfortable in their bodies. They seem to either embody or bring up every one of your physical and material insecurities which, I can’t say will completely go away, but lessen, soften and become hilarious, they will, for sure. And the truly accomplished yoginis (person who is practicing any aspect or small or large number of yoga postures regularly) become pure inspiration and open your eyes and your heart to your own competitive nature. This all turns out to be good, helping you to face many truths in an environment where, everybody’s doing that. I don’t know where exactly we all got the idea we were supposed to be perfect so much so that it takes bulldozers to let us see our frailties, but somehow, when you do it through yoga, it feels possible, lighthearted and life-affirming.
Finally, you get to the actual learning of the breathing techniques and the postures.(or any modifications necessary to make your body comfy in the process) This is easy compared to all the human stuff that’s already surfaced so naturally, just by moving onto a yoga mat. It’s also wonderful in that all of the basic physical elements in the very first pose you learn (Tadasana which means Mountain Pose) apply to every single posture that exists in yoga. And, by the way, the exact same elements apply to every step we take in walking. That’s why when I learned to teach Yoga, and was also continuing my teaching of how to walk to balance your body, (Walk Yourself Well, a 1998 Hyperion release) it was simple and appropriate to name that particular class, Yoga Walking, since we actually pass right through Tadasana with every step we take.
As you learn, your body may ache. Yoga will most likely bring to the surface every darn injury you’ve ever had, so you get to re-experience those. But then, in a long delicious process, you unravel, stretch gently, strengthen slowly and the kinks get dealt with, imposing themselves less on your yoga or any of your other movements in your daily regular world. However subtly or even unconsciously these were finding their way into your body, you become more in charge of them, and less at the effect of them. This is a process that can take years, and you come to learn, the longer the better, the deeper are the lessons.
The reason that I feel so sure of all of this body balancing potential, is that these asanas (postures…poses…all mean the same thing) are kinesiologically or mechanically brilliant. I don’t know how the ancients conceived of these specific poses so long (like 5000 years) before we had the knowledge to understand how technically brilliant they were, but they did. By combining them in various ways, you can not only focus well on any particular structural aim, i.e. a spine strengthening and flexibility day, a shoulder strength and flexibility day, a breathing day, a hip day, but you can come into a practice with a mental or emotional or spiritual anchor, something you need to process, just set that intention, and then ease it to the back burner while you practice. By the end, there is actually some resolution. You do it in your subconscious mind which, I have come to believe, is very much smarter than your conscious mind.
You see the thing is, body balance, that is, how we manage these beautiful machines with gravity always always pulling down, is body balance. Whether we are sitting to write, driving, eating, spinning on the ice, hitting a tennis ball, walking or in the most complex yoga posture, these learnable engineering principles are exactly the same. The beauty of that is, once you get this, and you can…I mean, everyone can get this, you get to sail away, or in, to where your inside lights are the brightest. This is the part that is said to be a spiritual journey, and don’t be mislead or frightened by these words. It is not a cult or specific religious following, rather a way into your self and some will call this your soul, and it is from this place, that your love will grow. Did I mention that that is the point? Of Yoga, I mean.
Imagine getting to combine your health, your inner peace, your ability to focus, reason and respond, (as opposed to being frightened and reactive all the time) and, make the best friends of your life. Because people drawn to this, are drawn to real growth, and you end up feeling like fellow earthlings, humbled, floating and graveling through together. This is Yoga.