Thursday, April 23, 2009

do you want a workout, or do you want the truth?

Perhaps I am a bit more obsessive than I'd care to admit. When I find myself enthralled in a pursuit or idea, I need to know everything about it. I leave no inch unexamined. I throw myself wholeheartedly in my pursuit. Obviously yoga falls into this over-examined life. Some will argue about yoga's lineage, but no matter what hatha yoga has a history much longer than my own. It is nearly impossible for me to go to the source and get every query answered, every curiosity sated. I have to accept this. I can still enjoy the gem of yoga in my life, even as I wonder whether the shape I see is its true shape. How many hands have passed over each facet, softening and eroding its edges, leaving their distinct fingerprints? I want to accept what is, but I cannot quiet the part of my mind that wants answers.

Clearly yoga changed as it hit American shores. I mean, clearly. Duh. A practice moves from a more collective society (as far as I know, at least) to a far more individually-minded collection of people. Some folks care to celebrate the collective, while others choose to tweak the practice in order to attract the type A's and rugged individualists. I have no way to know which is closer to the "truth" (if such a thing exists).

When I teach I want my students to surrender ego and ambition and accept what is. I know I shouldn't "want" anything, really... but I have to admit to that. In the course of my own practice I've learned to let go of my own mind and accept my body in its current, present state. I cannot expect anything. I cannot make demands. I breathe, I listen, I move. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course not everyone chooses a physical practice as part of a more spiritual practice, but a girl like me can dream, right?

It gives me a chuckle to watch my kindly American students, here in Land-O'-Healin', Oregon, struggle so desperately against a hatha yoga practice. As an instructor I give my students direction, in order to shift the body and mind in a direction of healing and to avoid discomfort and injury in the process. Instead of accepting the instruction, more often than not students ignore it, choosing to move their bodies how they see fit.

All well and good... if you're in an interpretive dance class. But this is yoga.

Folks seem to think: Oh, it's just yoga! I'm just gonna do what feels right! If that's the case, then why bother paying a certified instructor to lead your practice? Why bother coming at all? Stay home and save your money... and get nowhere. No, really: do it.

Could you imagine the uproar at a stadium if a baseball player chose to run the bases in reverse? But this is what feels right! he tells us. Sweet, dude... but the game's got rules. Play by the rules, or go home. America won't stand for interpretive baseball.

One can make the case that hatha yoga is a physical practice, and as such should be divorced from any spiritual or mental practice. Make the case, but don't expect me to speak on your behalf. That's aerobics, or calisthenics. Not yoga. Have fun at the gym. If you're in my yoga class, follow the dialogue or go home. If the suit chafes, decide whether you really want to wear it, or if I've bruised your poor ego. If I have, then I've done my job. After a while you realize you can leave the ego at the door. One day you will forget it altogether, and it ends up in my lost-and-found basket. When that day comes, you can say you practice yoga.

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