Life Lessons From The Yoga Dude
I have been practicing Yoga for 16 years. I’m still in the beginner’s class, and I probably will be for all my life. But that is okay with me. Yoga is called Practice for a reason. It is not called Competition.
So it does not matter if I’m not good at it. What matters is that I am “at it.”
It makes me feel good. Inside and out. I feel soothed after my practice. My mind is calm and my body is relaxed.
Here’s a benefit I will share with you, as I have shared with everyone interested in Yoga: I had suffered most of my life with debilitating backaches from Scoliosis. From the time I was fourteen, I spent more evenings than I can count lying on the floor, hoping for release. And 16 years ago, when I began my Yoga practice, the backaches went away. And they have stayed away.
Over the years I have had many Yoga teachers. Overwhelmingly, they have been wonderful. Yoga teachers are kind, supportive, and gentle.
There have been a couple of exceptions. I had one Yoga teacher a few years ago who seemed to get a lot of satisfaction by exhausting his students. He seemed happiest if he had managed to get us all down in Child pose, collapsed and panting, while he continued with his amazing poses. I discussed this with him. I said I felt discouraged because I couldn’t keep up. He told me Yoga was not a competition. Well, if you go back to my very first paragraph, you will see that I knew that. But I also knew it was not supposed to be discouraging either.
And then there was the very first Yoga teacher I had, who was actually a terrific teacher for beginners. She excelled at explaining and demonstrating the different poses so a novice could really understand. But the following year, she grew more and more what my husband calls “out there.” Her idea of Savasana (the relaxation period at the end of a session) got weird. The final straw was a 40 minute guided meditation where she thought we could join our minds to find the body of a murdered missing child.
Yeah. I’m not kidding.
But neither of those unpleasant experiences made me want to give up Yoga – not for one minute.
And I’ve had dozens of magnificent teachers. Like the teacher who told her class that she had a round soft belly, and showed up how easily Yoga can accommodate her belly and ours too. How nice is that? Not to have to be perfect.
And I had a teacher who took out all the mirrors in her studio so we could get better at feeling when our pose was good. It was Yoga from the inside out.
And there was the teacher who would raise us up from Savasana with her lovely songs. She sang to us and her sweet voice elevated our Yoga.
But teachers and students move on. They move to other jobs or other classes or other cities.
I really like my current Yoga teacher.
She’s graceful and talented and yet so down-to-earth. I especially like her knowledge of all the ancient Sanskrit yoga terminology – like “criss-cross applesauce” and “one potato, two potato”.
But she was away for the Christmas holiday.
So we had a substitute Yogi.
A young guy. Really tall and lanky. Very cute. Dimples. The kind of guy who made my heart melt – forty years ago. Not that I don’t enjoy looking now.
He may have been on semester break from college. I heard a couple of women say, “Oh, everyone knows your father.” But I didn’t listen further, because if his father was anyone but Darth Vader or James Taylor, I would have been disappointed. So I left the possibility in the air.
He was a challenging instructor. But his challenge was exhilarating, not discouraging.
And he had a very interesting outlook.
He possessed a philosophy about Yoga that upon reflection, was a philosophy that could be applied to Life.
And you’d be better for it.
Here are some of the ideas he shared with us.
“Your knees are the middle child of your legs, and so they need some special loving.”
All our body parts are in need of special loving. And like middle children, they are often ignored or just taken for granted. I wrote last year that I always hated my neck because it was short and thick, but now that I am older I have realized that it has always held my head up just fine. This nice Yoga teacher had us massage our knees. I came home and wrapped a nice warm scarf around my helpful – albeit short – neck.
“Throw back your head but in slow motion. Be like a shampoo commercial.”
We could all benefit from slowing down, being more graceful. And good background music wouldn’t hurt.
“If you don’t like this do it quickly and so it will be over. If you do like it, do it slowly and make it last.”
Sometimes you have to do things you don’t especially like. But there is no reason to agonize over them. Do it and move on. But if you are doing something you love – Savor it. I had a luscious piece of my favorite chocolate a few days ago, and I ate it while I was skimming through Twitter. Afterwards, I didn’t even remember eating it. I didn’t remember tasting it. Today, when I had one of my sister’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, I ate it tiny bit by tiny bit, and let it melt in my mouth.
“Take your face out of this pose.”
Relax that jaw. Unclench your teeth. My old Zaftig Yogini would say, “Use your cow face.” When I asked her what she meant, she said, “Did you ever see a tense cow?” And it’s true – when you unclench, you instantly feel better. But I see even more meaning in taking your face out of the pose – or out of the situation. To a great extent, your face reflects your feelings, your emotions, your reactions. Your body doesn’t always have to think. You don’t always have to think. You can just Be.
“Don’t be so “Yoga” about this Yoga.”
I think the Yoga dude was trying to tell us to relax. Not to be trying so hard. Yoga should not be stressful. Lots of things we do every day should not be stressful either. We don’t need to be so “kitcheny” when we kitchen, or so “worky” when we work, or even so “worshipy” when we worship.
On the other hand:
“You’ve already started the class; it’s too late to stay home.”
Once you commit, you might as well give it a try. It is actually possible to not stress and yet do your best at the same time. I found that out when I started painting again. I can give my work my full attention without a death-grip on the paintbrush.
Enjoy the smell of what you are cooking.
The flow of the ink through the pen and your handwriting on the paper.
The breeze you create when you swing that golf club.
The car moving when you step on the gas.
The warmth in your face when you smile.
When you laugh.
When you look at someone you love.