Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yoga is ...

     "You cannot call yourself a yogi if you are not a vegan. Real yogis don't use props. Yoga is not calisthenics."  This is just a tiny sampling of the attempts I have heard from people to define yoga lately. Ego yearns to establish control of situations by labeling them. In Exodus Moses demands from God a little more information about who God is. Moses needed to be "in the know" and God simply answers "I am who I am". One of my favorite "names of God" is the Ineffable, which simply means the unknowable. In a lot of ways yoga to me is the ineffable activity. Of course, there are parameters of "what yoga is". Yoga is an 8 limbed system of body mind integration that usually but not always includes making shapes with your body, examining your mind and using breath intentionally to effect internal shifts. Usually but not always...

     So, to get down to it the word yoga really just means "to yoke" and in this instance the objects being yoked (or integrated) are an individuals mind and body.Sometimes, but not always, this mind body integration leads to spiritual awakening or deepening and sometimes this yoking leads to a tighter bum and stronger arms. Sometimes yoga may lead to weaker arms and a stronger mind. Maybe the yogi in $100 yoga pants performing sweaty calisthenics in a trendy downtown gym is meditating deeply on God in those pricey pants. The thing is "we don't know". We don't know the true nature of much, even ourselves.  My faith is a huge component of my life which I cannot imagine living without but I know it would be delusional to insist on labeling God and in the same vein I reject labeling yoga. Yoga is too big and generous to tie down with our tiny ideas.

     It took a sixteen hour road trip and a premature return to work to make me blurt out in front of a class "What the hell is yoga anyways?".  This outburst immediately followed by the thought "well, I am the yoga teacher and I am supposed to be teaching this very thing". Yikes. Who can teach how the wind blows, or how a soul awakens? Can we teach one another body/mind integration? I mean really? The thing is, I will admit I don't know. And that is OK. Because sometimes thinking we know something stymies our efforts to learn and grow. Buddhists call it beginners mind.  Beginners mind asks that we don't assume we know stuff but rather we sit with what is and observe without judgement and perhaps growth will occur.

     This need to label and control situations, of course, extends way beyond yoga and religion. We almost automatically do it with every person we ever meet. Glance at someone in the lane next to you going 70 miles and hour down the highway, your thoughts about them will offer a myriad of labels based on a glance. If they have a gun rack in a pick up truck the thought "redneck" may pop in your head, if they have an Obama sticker on a Lexus you will probably assume they are liberal. But the truth is you know nothing about that person save for the fact they can drive. We take a yoga class or two and soon need to label the activity rears its ugly head. But yoga is what you make it. If you need yoga to be a daily three hour chanting, meditating, whirling dervish activity it will be. If you need your yoga to be sweaty exercise it will be. But is the act of practicing your yoga quieting your mind and healing your body? Well, if you are busy labeling what yoga is and judging people who don't practice it like you then the quiet mind is not operating in that moment, is it?  So, what if we all quit pretending we know what yoga is and just allowed to it show us who we are instead? The next time you have a thought "yoga is...." recognize that this is your opinion and take a breath. Then the next time you assume you know something about God or about another person simply recognize you are assuming an opinion rather than recognizing a fact. To simply awaken to the idea that the great  majority of our thoughts are opinions not facts is to awaken to possibility. With the extreme divisiveness in our society at this moment wouldn't it be nice to lay down some of our labels and opinions and just recognize our fellow humans as just that fellow humans. It can begin on the yoga mat. Quit trying to label and control and set yourself free because the beginning of knowing is knowing you don't know.
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. Proverbs 18:12

Monday, September 3, 2012

You Are Awesome!

     A few years ago trying on jeans surrounded by women calling out their flaws from ill lit dressing rooms, calls of  "butt's too big!" and "oh,my god, my thighs!!" rang out as we all reinforced our mediocrity and lack. The calls continued until this moment when I tried on a pair that actually flattered my form and instead of calling out "perfect fit!!!" or " I look awesome!" I let the calls of self criticism ring out unchallenged by my joy. I actually considered for one moment calling out to my sister "damn my thighs look good in these jeans" but the discomfort at the idea caused the thought to die before it reached my lips. Perhaps I was vaguely afraid of upsetting the female camaraderie built on ill disguised self loathing I remained silent. I am sure I was not the only one. Every week when I ask my yoga classes for input before we begin I get a litany of wrongs. Quick to share what is limiting them whether an injury or a perceived limitation the students call out whats wrong, what needs fixing, what's not good enough. But never once has someone said something like " I noticed I am getting stronger in my __________, so lets keep working there" or "I am so proud I touched my __________ so can we practice that?" Now I know it important to protect an injury during yoga and probably many of the yogis calling out limitations have just fine self esteem. But why was it, I wonder, when I asked a class to meditate for 60 seconds on the phrase " I am awesome" did a palpable tension fall over my group of beautiful yoginis?

     This was not the first time I have meditated in this exact style with this same class. This particular meditation did not awkwardly interrupt a fun flow. I did not poke them in the eye as I asked them to consider their awesomeness. The only reason I can conclude that their uncharacteristic discomfort came up was the focus of the meditation: their own awesomeness. Every thought we think, every word we say weaves the crazy colorful tapestry of our identity. So, it is logical, is it not to use positive thoughts and words about ourselves? But why is it so hard? Perhaps we are afraid to stand apart from the dissatisfied masses, afraid to shine. Embracing our awesome light does not mean burying our darkness. This morning reading the blog of an amazing teacher I was surprised to discover that one of his biggest fears is his own capacity for cruelty, his dark side, and yet his teachings shine light on so many. Last night conversing with a student I discovered our shared fear of our own "dark sides" and yet we both continue to endevor to do good.  So here we are,  afraid to shine our light and afraid our dark sides will eat us up in the night, caught in the middle of dark and light where there is only gray. But, here's the thing: it is never too late to shine light and by accepting all the facets of ourselves dark and light, scary and awesome we become whole and healed. We cannot hide our dark or our light and expect to live holistically.

     Scripture calls us to not hide our light but to glorify God with that light. So what if the next time you noticed something awesome about yourself you shared your joy with someone? Not ironically and without negative qualifiers we share that joy and the light you shine brings enough light to the room for the people around you to see their light switches and tentatively take a step into their own light. Perhaps, we think shining our light diminishes others, but just the opposite, owning the fact that parts of you are dark and parts of you are light but all of you is awesome, well that just may encourage someone near to embrace their awesomeness. And when we embrace our wholeness we embrace the fact that we are Gods masterpiece and that is worthy of some awe. Our mechanical yet spiritual bodies, our monkey minds perhaps not yet tamed, our heroism and humor, our lusts and temptations all of the threads of us woven together with stitches of self love and humility, all this this makes for a beautiful and, yes, awesome tapestry. Not taking the overused word lightly, you are AWESOME! Worthy of awe, you are Gods masterpiece. Beautiful in your flaws. Perfect in your imperfection...take a chance today and allow your awesomeness to shine.
God helps us to accept the truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful.