January 24, 2014

Our Love/Hate Relationship with…Yoga? ~ Caroline McGraw

This one’s for us.

It’s not for the idealized, hyper-enthusiastic, I never miss a class, wobble in Tree pose or feel anything other that just great! yogi that we all secretly aspire to be. Because, surprise!—that person doesn’t actually exist.

No. This is for us, because we are real.

And after all, we, the real, deserve some credit here. We get up and go to class even though we’re tempted to stay home and watch TV instead…even though we secretly love shows that run counter to the yoga ethos. (Revenge, anyone?)

When we fight these mental battles, we usually end up surrendering this way: “All right, all right, so I’m a bit of a walking contradiction, but actually…that’s OK. That means I’m human.”

We’ve won a victory if we come to our mats not only when we’re bright and shiny, but also when we’re grouchy and sad for no (discernible) reason.

And if we keep showing up, we grow braver. We start giving that long-shot pose a try, letting ourselves tremble and flail. In doing so, we dare to believe that, as Liz Gilbert wrote in Eat, Pray, Love: “To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life.”

This one’s for us. For all our contradictions, our dualities, our light and our dark.

We love yoga, we really do.

We love how our practice waits for us so patiently, how it’s always ready to be taken up again. We love the steadiness of it. In an ever-changing world, it’s comforting to know that a specific series always contains the same elements.

And let’s just acknowledge the pleasure that is yoga clothing. Isn’t it great that we have an excuse to dress up in outrageous colors and patterned tights? Yoga gives us a free pass to be playful.

It’s reassuring to know that, after a strenuous practice, we can look forward to savasana (resting yoga pose). It’s wonderful to know that, in the end, we get to lie down.

Plus, we love the virtuous, cleaned-out feeling of having practiced. It’s lovely to walk out of the studio feeling blissful. We love feeling like conquerors, even if the only world we’ve conquered is—oh so fleetingly—the one within.

And we adore the moments—elusive as they may be—when we feel our minds turning off, when we feel the verbal chatter quieting down, when we have, even if just for a moment, a kind of resonant silence within ourselves.

But also…we hate yoga, we really do.

We hate the way it shows us to ourselves as we are, rather than as we wish we could be.

We hate the way yoga brings up our jealousy, our ego and our contradictions. We hold a ‘cool’ arm-balance and we see ourselves glance at our teacher, trying to make sure they notice how ‘on’ we are that day. When we see a t-shirt that says, “I will kick your ass at yoga…namaste,” we smile knowingly and sigh.

Or maybe we fart or emit some other odd bodily noise, then see ourselves frantically scanning the room to make sure no one else knows that, oops, that was us. We did it. 

Or perhaps we hear a gentle correction: “Tuck in your tailbone a bit,” or, “Square your hips,” and find ourselves seething with anger at our (kind, supportive) teacher.

In that moment, we’re forced to see: This is not about the teacher. This is old anger, anger at those parents or peers who led us to believe that we weren’t—and never would be—good enough.

And as we’re remembering those old wounds—maybe actually acknowledging them for the first time—we find ourselves weeping. We are shocked to feel silent, salty tears running from our eyes and into our ears.

When this happens, we’re not thinking ultra-spiritual thoughts; we’re just praying that we’ll be able to contain the hysterical, desperate feeling so that maybe no one will notice.

Such vulnerability is devastating, really. Do a hip-opener or backbend and who knows what emotions might rise to the surface? Anything could happen in yoga, and we hate that, because it shatters our precious illusion of control.

When will we finally understand that it was always and only an illusion?

When will we finally let go?

Oddly enough, the answer is: soon

Because in that moment at the end of class, during final relaxation, when everyone rests; when we relax into the rhythm of our breath, and feel ourselves drifting together; when our teacher sits serene, watching over us all, and we think, “She’s just like a mother bird, and we are like little fledglings, sleeping, yet soon to fly,”

It’s then that we are what we long to be.

We are free.


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Assistant Editor: Paige Vignola/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image via Wikimedia


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