June 17, 2016

Yoga, I Just Can’t: The Meaning of Our Yoga Practice During Times of Tragedy.

 yoga mat feet bend

When I first become a yoga teacher, I felt I had to “follow” famous yogis and their respective magazines online.

I took it as fact that the yoga industry knew better than me, so it must be very important for me to see all these poses, pretty people and glossy articles in order to seem legit.

Enter Facebook.

For better or worse, Facebook, for me and probably many others, has become an information aggregator. And since my three main interests are politics, literature and yoga, I spend my digital life seeing current event and political news articles sandwiched between yoga poses.

And, lately, the dichotomy is killing me.

Right next to the Stanford rape victim’s beautiful, brave, excruciating-to-read victim statement, I see a yoga teacher in a pristine studio talking about how to best spread the toes while upside down.

Right after an article titled “Teen Killed in Shooting Near High School in Boston,” I see inspirational quotes scrolled on a pink pastel background with a gazillion yoga hashtags underneath.

And, yoga, I just can’t anymore.

I just can’t take a chakra balancing sequence seriously anymore; I just don’t see the point of learning that if you rotate your shoulders 32 degrees outwards, you’ll be able to hold a headstand 86 seconds longer. I’m no longer moved by inspirational quotes and I can’t get excited by a pretty person in a pretty pose in a pretty place. I just don’t care to know that these six moves will give me a yoga butt, and I don’t want to learn how the moon and stars’ alignment will affect my ability to balance on one leg. I still do yoga daily, but I’m no longer interested in what the yoga industry is throwing out there.

During a class I taught just after the Orlando tragedy, I was instructing the class to “rotate the pinky finger down” as mothers cried in heaps on the floor over the blood of their sons. I told students to “keep power in your left big toe and press your right heel back” as hospital staff worked around the clock to save the lives of survivors who will never escape the memories of that night. How can I pretend to be a light-hearted, smoothie-drinking, perky little yoga teacher when there is a tangible sadness pushing down my heart and making my words sink instead of rise and release out of my mouth? How can I “like” a photo of gluten-free, sugar-free brownies when those families will never again be free of soul-crushing sorrow?

I can’t. I can’t do it.

I guess I will show up. But gone are my days of fancy flows and clever transitions just to keep people entertained. Gone are my days of caring whether or not someone achieves a yoga butt or ever balances in a handstand.

I still like yoga. I still love yoga. But as long as the shoulders are enough in the right place to prevent injury, and I can move in a way that feels good, I don’t really need to know more. I don’t need to see supermodel-looking teachers Eka Pada-ing it up in an always-disclosed location, and I don’t need a 360-degree demo of the Chaturangato Upward Facing Dog transition. I don’t.

I’m going to keep it simple. I’m going to dig deep inside myself to try to set the stage for you to be able to tune in and do the work—the work of looking into the crevices of your soul and find out who you really are.

I’m going to keep teaching you to move but in a simple way, so you can’t think about your bank balance, your waist size, your grocery shopping list. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll leave a little bit lighter, a little bit freer. Maybe you’ll be a touch calmer, more patient and tolerant. And maybe you can take that out into the world, and then—even if just for 10 minutes—you are nicer to the people you meet. If I can do that, maybe this isn’t so stupid after all.

I’m done caring what the big toe and pinky finger are doing. Point them up, point them down, it doesn’t matter. Just point them in a way that feels good so you can get out of your head and into your heart. And when you come back to yourself, maybe you won’t care as much about our differences anymore.

I will use my personal yoga practice to make me a nicer, calmer, less judgmental person so that I can somehow, someday find my own little way to make the world a better place.

And, I can promise you this: my message won’t be written in pastels.


Author: Emily Scott

Image: CityofStPete/Flickr // Neal Fowler/Flickr

Editors: Caitlin Oriel; Renée Picard

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