Confession: I am not a yoga purest. I love yoga and am a certified Yoga Teacher but you will surely never, ever see me on the cover of Yoga Journal. I do not aspire to Crow (Bakasana) or Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasan).
It is doubtful I will ever perfect my Boat pose (Navasana) as only one set of toes barely leave the ground. I sometimes grunt impressively during Chaturanga Dandasana. And that, my friends, is totally cool with me.
To be clear, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are part of my daily life and inform the way I live. Nevertheless, my pressing focus each day is to feel grounded physically and mentally and to live mindfully in the present moment, fully in my body. Time on my mat, even 10-15 minutes, is one of my daily disciplines to live a healthy life. In that respect, my practice is impressive to precisely no one. In fact, I see it is a reprieve from impressing anyone, from a demanding world (and sometimes from a demanding me.)
So much of life these days is about ‘Performance’ (with a Capital P) or production, narrowly defined success measures and the bottom line. On my mat, however, nothing needs to happen that is measured by anyone else. My yoga practice is as much about simply rolling out my mat and listening carefully inside myself as it is about anything else. What do I need? How can I genuinely care for and kindly love myself? On my mat, I return to the knowledge that I need not change a thing about myself to be whole and complete.
I remind my yogis at the beginning of each and every class that everything I offer them is simply a suggestion. Once they have the basics, they are truly their best teachers. Listening to their physical and mental needs and responding in kind is far more important than anything else happening in the room.
Yes, yoga is one of my daily disciplines and it serves me well but perhaps it feels foreign or daunting to you. Perhaps, the word ‘daily’ is far more daunting than the word ‘yoga.’ Let’s set that aside for a moment as I share with you a bit about a much beloved class I taught for four years. It just might change the way you feel about yoga.
We simply called it ‘Stretch and Bend’. No one had a mat. We all wore casual clothing and most everyone kept their shoes on. There were usually five or six of us and the average age was 65 (or maybe a little more). Not a single person would have self-identified as an athlete, athletic or fit. We sat in chairs in a circle and met for 30-40 minutes every Monday evening. Everyone participated fully to their ability doing poses modified from a studio class I also taught. We centered ourselves, practiced our diaphragmatic breathing, stretched, twisted, balanced, lengthened, strengthened, centered again, then sat quietly for a minute or two. They loved the way they felt as they walked out the door, these mighty, dear yogis, and I treasure all they taught me in our four years together.
So, back to you. Back to today. Back to this moment.
If you are curious about yoga, now is the time to find a Beginners or Intro class near you. Perhaps go meet the teacher before you show up for the first time. Ask questions! If you don’t feel a connection or (heaven forbid) they don’t seem interested in you or your needs, keep looking, but start today. Get out of your own way and make that first yoga deposit in your life-long health account. (Remember, everyone has their first class. You’ll survive.)
If you have your own practice but currently feel like a stranger to your mat, I invite you to dust it off now. Yes, now. I mean it. Go. Put the phone down or step away from your laptop. If you don’t have ten minutes for even a quick stretch, set your mat in a prominent place so you see it when you walk back in the door or when your schedule frees up. The hardest part is simply rolling out your mat.
If you have not been to a class at your favorite studio or with your favorite teacher lately, by all means get thee to a studio! Just one class. No big promises necessary. Just today. Treat yourself. You are worth it.
You no doubt have or will have your own experience of Yoga, from glorious to nothing at all, and I cannot wait to hear about. What I know for sure is that yoga helps me return to myself and helps me call my mind home, making for a more peaceful, balanced and healthy me. Yoga, with Expression and Spirit (Y E S), helps me to be authentically me. That’s what its all about.
Do you hear it? Your mat is calling.
Artwork by the incomparable artist, John Gerber.