July 2, 2011

Yoga might make you a better person — you are not a better person because you do yoga.

During my short trip home to Boulder I was granted the time and opportunity to indulge in almost daily yoga. And more importantly, though according to my own personal bank statements I am on the edge of poverty, with my mother’s help I had the funding to back this indulgence.

The week started with a three day yoga and meditation retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center with Erica Kaufman.

I skipped out on some of the chanting and hand holding, but by the end of three yoga-filled days in such unbelievably serene surroundings I couldn’t help but open my mind to a more spiritual connection with yoga that I admit I have resisted.

Granted, In the past I have come close to tears in deep hip openers and many of my “life is amazing” moments have come with my eyes shut and body limp in Savasana. But, in general, I’ve approached yoga as I have most things in my life — open minded and enthusiastic but always grounded in reason and albeit a little pessimism.

For the rest of the week, with no homework or job and all of Boulders amazing studios and instructors at my fingertips, I had the liberty to explore this relationship further. And by the end of the week, during arguably the best class of my life with MC Yogi and Amanda Giocomini at the Hanuman Yoga Festival, I was so relaxed and happy that I wanted to kiss the strangers in downward dog surrounding me — sure that they felt as connected and open minded as I did as they were, after all, practicing yoga.

But, when I returned home elated from each class — skeptical of the judgment of anyone who does not do yoga — I was always brought back to reality with a poem on my mother’s fridge.

It reads like this:

New Year’s Eve, by: Carl Dennis

However busy you are, you should still reserve
One evening a year for thinking about your double
The man who took the curve on Conway Road
Too fast, given the icy patches that night,
But no faster than you did; the man whose car
When it slid through the shoulder
Happened to strike a girl walking alone
From a neighbor’s party to her parents’ farm,
While your car struck nothing more notable
Than a snowbank.
One evening for recalling how soon you transformed
Your accident into a comic tale
Told first at a body shop, for comparing
That hour of pleasure with his hour of pain
At the house of the stricken parents, and his many
Long afternoons at the Lutheran graveyard.
If nobody blames you for assuming your luck
Has something to do with your character,
Don’t blame him for assuming that his misfortune
Is somehow deserved, that justice would be undone
If his extra grief was balanced later
By a portion of extra joy.
Lucky you, whose personal faith has widened
To include an angel assigned to protect you
From the usual outcome of heedless moments.
But this evening consider the angel he lives with,
The stern enforcer who drives the sinners
Out of the Garden with a flaming sword.
And locks the gate

Though the poem has nothing to do with yoga I think it teaches an important lesson that too often yoga enthusiasts forget — privilege.

Instructors often talk about how as humans we are all born with a potential that you can harness when you dedicate yourself to your practice. Yoga promises to open your mind, that its meditative movement will make you feel better about yourself and thus you will have a positive effect in the interconnected web of life.

And I do not disagree with this entirely. Yoga has made me feel healthier, happier and at the end of a class a more positive person. This cannot be said of everyone, however.

We are not born with the same potential. Some people are born physically handicapped. Some people are poor and stay poor their entire lives. These people will never have the luxury of spending $500 on a three day retreat in the mountains. And in most places in the world people do not have the work schedule to fit in a 90-minute C2 at noon on a Monday.

And even those who do have the potential time and resources to spend on yoga may not live in beautiful surroundings that encourage optimism. They may have experienced or witnessed suffering that makes them doubt that sun salutations are the key to world-wide happiness.

As it says in the poem, consider these people the next time you practice. Consider during the speech by your instructor praising you for being so open and willing to explore yoga how lucky you are to have the means of doing so.

Yoga is a privilege not afforded to everyone. So, while yoga might make those who practice it better people, this does not mean we are better or more enlightened people because we choose to practice.

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