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July 24, 2022

Why Do You “Do” Yoga?

 

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It was the rarest of rare instances when all three kids agreed upon participating in the same afternoon activity.

When you have a bookworm high-schooler about to fly the coop, a middle schooler who has recently taken to preferring the company of her friends over her mom, and an eight-year-old whose idea of entertainment most often involves nerf guns and/or video games, and they all want to hang out with you and each other, you strike while the iron is hot—lest anyone change their mind before you trap them in the car.

Everyone agreed that going to the lake down the street and floating on the paddle boards sounded like a fine idea. I threw a bunch of goldfish, grapes, and water into the beach bag, packed up the inflatable paddle boards, and drove my little crew down to the lake on what was turning out to be a most sweltering summer day.

After the boards were inflated and the two older kiddos began to paddle off into the horizon, I lay down on my towel in a sweaty heap and began plopping cold grapes in my mouth. It didn’t take long before my eight-year-old son had made friends with another child on the shore who appeared to be the same age. The kid had neon green goggles plastered to his face, which he wore even while he was above water, and a collection of water blasters that launched lake water 10 feet in the air. They became immediate best friends as they battled whatever imaginary creatures of the lake they’d formulated together.

All was right with the world. I applied a smattering of sunscreen and lay back on my elbows to revel in how I’d gotten all three kids out of the house for a family activity.

This lasted five minutes.

Just as quickly as they’d made their way out into the lake, my high-schooler arrived back on shore, said they’d had enough paddling for the day, and wondered when we’d be leaving.

My other teen was a minuscule speck on the horizon, and my little guy was so immersed in playing with his new friend and his water blasters that I surmised he wouldn’t be easily persuaded to leave any time soon.

“It’s probably gonna be minute,” I said.

There was a disgruntled huff as my teen rummaged around in the beach bag, found their current reading material (a book that looked like it had at least 20,000 pages in it) wrapped themselves in a beach towel cocoon, and began reading quietly.

For all intents and purposes, I was alone with my thoughts.

Normally, I don’t have much of an opportunity to ride around on the paddle boards when I’m out with the kiddos—because there are only two of them, and they’re most often being used. I watched as the lake water lapped over the edge of the unused board, and decided to take it for a float.

At first, I lingered by the shore next to my little guy and his new best friend. They seemed put off by my presence (there probably wasn’t a mom figure in their lake monster game), so I took the hint and paddled away.

I followed the length of the swim rope that paralleled the shore a few times, enjoying the sting of the sun on my shoulders, while allowing my legs from the knees down to dangle in the cool water.

I finally settled into a spot along the swim rope that was directly across from the little kiddos, and watched them as they shot arcs of water at each other while attending to the important needs of eradicating the lake of zombies and what-not.

It was peaceful. The roar of the crowd on the sand seemed distant and muffled from where I was on the water. It felt like I was in my own private space of water and sun, so I took a few deep breaths to enjoy it.

Then I had an idea. In all my years of practicing and teaching yoga, I’d never tried a balancing posture on a paddle board. It seemed playful and challenging, so I decided I’d give downward facing dog a whirl. The board wobbled beneath me as I shifted my weight.

Just as I would on my mat, I pressed into my palms and the balls of my feet. The paddle board rocked wildly as I struggled to find my balance. My entire body stiffened as it became abundantly clear I was most likely about to topple into the lake in an awkward splash. And then I realized that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to happen, so I softened into the shape and started breathing again. I slowly lengthened out my legs then my arms, and smiled to myself as I took in the view from this new and fantastic vantage point.

I was immersed in lake and sky, readjusting the pressure on the board through my hands and feet as little waves continued to roll under me. Once the fear that I’d fall had subsided, I began to try other postures—child’s pose, a seated twist, then finally headstand. I felt connected, balanced, and somewhat joyful as I lingered in all the familiar postures I practice on the daily, but that felt brand new in this setting.

From what seemed like out of nowhere, a loud woman’s voice from the shore called out, “Why are you doing yoga?”

I froze. Then wondered if I had imagined it. It was a question I asked myself regularly, after all. Why do I “do” yoga, practice yoga, teach yoga, live yoga all day every day? The answers varied depending on when I asked myself, but the question itself was familiar.

I slowly made my way to a seat and gazed in the direction of the disembodied voice. Sure enough, off to the left beneath a cluster of giant poplar trees where the osprey nest, was a woman staring directly at me. Moments before when I passed that same spot from the water, she had been lying on her belly, soaking up the sun. Though it was too far away to see her face clearly, I felt her smirking at me.

I’ll be honest, my immediate inclination was to flash her two high middle fingers and call it a day. But I didn’t. I instinctively took a deep breath instead and unlocked my gaze from hers. And that was that, the negativity and tension I could have easily embraced were dissolved.

I realized that is precisely one of the most significant reasons why I “do” yoga. Because the space between action and reaction, while oftentimes can be mere microseconds, is absolutely precious. It’s something I fine-tune every single day.

It’s part of my practice on the mat and off. It’s this mind space that has gotten me through countless unexpected life circumstances the last decade—some of them heartbreaking, confusing, and devastating.

As I shifted my gaze away from her and thought about her question, I realized there were countless reasons I did yoga. I’ve shown up to practice consistently for years now because it makes me feel physically amazing. It reminds me that peace and happiness are an inside job. It creates a sense of autonomy and discipline that affects every aspect of my life. It keeps me playful, hopeful, grounded, strong, and curious.

I do yoga because it improves the quality of my life exponentially.

I considered paddling over to the woman and explaining this to her. I wanted to tell her that if I didn’t practice yoga, I probably would have yelled something back at her or felt really rotten about what she had said. I wanted to tell her that she should “do” some yoga, too.

But I imagined she wasn’t truly asking me a question that she wanted an answer to, so I played around with a few more shapes, then paddled back to shore to my kids.

~

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