I’m on my way soon to see my teacher again! Wish me luck in my endeavors. I may not be the most enterprising yoga teacher. I’m curious porpoise instead. As Carroll said in “Alice” Don’t go anywhere without a porpoise.
An acquaintance, a few years younger than me, tells me quite seriously that she would “love to do yoga.” She pauses for dramatic effect. Wait for it. With slightly downcast eyes continues, “but I am too stiff.” Alas Batman, I can’t join you for yoga class. I’m not holding my breath. I assure her that when I was recovering from my hip injury my “forward fold” consisted of bringing my chin to my neck. True, but nothing will convince her. She’s got an agenda to keep. And miles to go before she sleeps. Her cherished belief is that yoga is for the born-flexible few, not for the average person. Poignant closeup. . . this is trying, terrible, very tragic indeed.
Would that I could provide an Instagram of her very sad expression.
Flexible people do like stretching and all, for the same reasons stiff people do: stretching feels scrumptious. I’m suspicious though, that a naturally bendy person can’t achieve the same sense of accomplishment I feel when I do a full forward fold. I had further to go. My fold is such an improvement for me! I start at zero. I improve a hundred and eighty degrees. My hip injury is not the first time I lose my flexibility. As a naturally awkward person my flexibility quickly evaporates anytime I lapse in yoga. It’s kind of like the way when I stop eating I become hungry. It doesn’t happen right away, but it will happen, and seems to happen predictably, routinely, consistently. I have to keep moving.
I wryly note: only difference between me and my acquaintance is that I do yoga.
If ya wanna be a trail-blazing yogini, the first in your class to win benefits, increase strength, improve focus and all that I have 7, count ’em, seven bullet points for you. ‘Cause bullet points and yoga go together like coffee and beer.
- Foster a sense of intereoception. Interior perception is the ability to sense inside of myself. If you’ve ever had a stomach cramp or a charley horse you know what I’m talking about. There are, however, more subtle sensations than pain. Learn how to feel blood flowing, nervous energy, vessels dilating.
- Do Research. Lord knows I shouldn’t have to take yoga on faith. I meet swamis, gurus, yogis, yoga instructors, physical therapists and doctors. Avail myself of hard copy books, magazines. Reading is a passport and a time machine. Read Primary Sources, not just books and blogs by people who read the books and sutras I can read for myself. Sanskrit English dictionary is available online. Which brings me to point three
- Foster a sense of independence. Yoga is not a competitive sport. If there are yoga “goals” (sort of an oxymoron) they are to be aware, observe dispassionately, let go and let in. Yoga can feel very dualistic if I am searching outside of myself for answers, guidance and practice. The answer is within, I know more than I think. Learn to trust the still small voice which is not God. Mine own earnest conscience speaks volumes. Who ever ignored a gut feeling and felt the better for it? No one, right?
- Seek Allies Not the people I need to please. Find the people who please me. My support system, my buds, my encouragement, my coach. I surround myself with a strong buffer zone between me and the bullies and the cads. The love of a supportive partner/employer/teacher saves me. The guru disciple model may be traditional but is not for me. My best teachers are the ones who are approachable, friendly and kind.
- Be valiantly discriminating To paraphrase Sir Richard Dawkins sometimes there are not two equally opposing arguments, sometimes one side is wrong. If I want to be a successful yogi/person/member of society – I must know right from wrong. I don’t mean in an ultra follow-the-doctrine sheepish manner. I mean in an actually thoughtful, mindful manner. Stick up for the vulnerable and the exploited, shut down the fiercely exploitive.
- Make my own luck Sometimes after years or months or days of doing a pose voila, I open up a new space in my body. How can I tell the difference between falling in the spaces and doing yoga wrong? “Wrong” is caused by lack of strength, compensation – ineffective alignment. “Wrong” feels passive. Whereas eureka is an activation. I have to be looking, to find. Learning is a very active practice issued from thousands and thousands of thoughtful repetitions.
- Set aside worry The one question I hear more than any other as a yoga teacher? “Where should I feel it?” To which I reply, where do you feel it? Don’t worry about doing yoga wrong. Pay attention. It’s never wrong to pay attention. Pay attention and earn interest.
What do I believe as true that not very other people believe is true? I believe indifference is the enemy. I believe being silent and tacitly protecting the “bad” guys is far more dangerous than the “bad” guys themselves. There are, in fact, very few actually Bad Guys. Left to their own devices their circle of influence remains unremarkable. Only when good people retreat to bad people dominate. For example? For example let’s take the would be yogi I open my piece with, the one who believes yoga is for the fortunately flexible alone. She hurts whom? No one but herself with her jingoistic attitude. Except? Except when she is overheard.
When two people tell two people a thing, that information grows wings and flies. Two times two times two is eight people running around dishing on yoga. Dismissing yoga. Discouraging yoga participants. Raining on my parade. What if one of four people stands up to the Cassandra? Three out of four will continue to tell two friends that yoga is reserved for genetically blessed. Six additional would be yoga students will never see a class. “So what?” You ask. Indifference is a natural state of mind. Why should we, Kumari, have an opinion?
Indifference creates inescapable consequences. Indifference is not a safe, fuzzy, cozy space between right and wrong. Indifference is clearly bad. When the good are silent evil always wins. The voiceless vulnerable need others to speak up for them. Don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I mention the shy, the overweight, the less than flexible, the older, the injured, who may hesitate to take a class. When normal weight average people like my acquaintance play-act like yoga can’t be done, she discourages further the already discouraged. She reinforces stereotypes of lycra clad young ladies – as if (!)
I was admonished recently for using the word “older” in a yoga studio. The owner, bless her heart, reminded me No One likes to be thought of as old. For the record I didn’t say “old.” I said “older,” and I am including myself in this category of unlikely yoga enthusiasts. I am older. Yup, you over heard it here first. Despite getting older and older with each passing day, WTF – I’m still doing yoga, unlike the naysayer, the never-started, the sad tragedian who purports she’d “love” to do yoga, but she can’t. ‘Cause, you know, she’s not flexible. Not in her mind nor her body. Be a champion not a chump.
Now y’all play nice.