Some observations on yoga as lifestyle.

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I just came out of a really nice yoga class, and I feel really good. Yoga has been doing that for me more and more, leaving me feeling differently from how I felt when I went in, but also very distincl from the feeling I used to get after a really satisfying gym workout, or run, or competitive athletic endeavor. It is interesting to pay attention to how I respond to different activities in my life, and as of late I have been really trying to look at how yoga makes me feel. This has been inspired by a number of things not the least of which is my physical well-being. I have not been able to put my finger on to what it is that is different about the yoga feeling, but I have been thinking about it a lot and I have a feeling it may have something to do with this idea of a “yoga lifestyle.”

I find the phrase “yoga lifestyle” hilarious. However, I think it bears consideration that yoga is a lifestyle.

  • If your yoga lifestyle means wearing $100 Lululemon and drinking wine – that is a lifestyle, and it has its own kind of balance.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is putting your freaking amazeballs body in a tiny (probably very expensive) bikini and taking some photos of yourself in impressive asana, that too has its own sort of balance, and is a lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is pretending you have a sanskrit (or you thought it was sanskrit) name and chanting and teaching yoga to other people who feel good in this environment, then that too is a yoga lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is aggressively athletic: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is rigorously ascetic or disciplined: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is loud: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is quiet: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is expensive and opulent: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is homemade and in the park: lifestyle.

Hippe, hottie, gay, straight, earthy, commercial… it is all a lifestyle. So, I find it really strange when yoga people find it necessary to judge all these other lifestyles. And the judgement comes in so many guises, I honestly think that some people think they are not judging, or that they are fooling people into thinking they are not judging (no.) I have been thinking about this a lot lately as so many entities are taking it upon themselves to educate us about what a yoga lifestyle is. (I suppose that is some sort of lifestyle too.) And it is weird because I do not see this intra-community judgment between sports and gym traditions, or Zumba and spinning or something. This is yoga people telling all sorts of other yoga people how they are “doing it right” or not.

What really got me on to this was trying to picture my first yoga teacher participating in this kind of ‘education.’ I had to laugh trying to picture Veer telling people how what they were doing was not yoga, or had the wrong intentions, or was spreading the wrong message.

As if.

Now, to be fair, I began yoga in a unique way, I came to it later in life (I was 37) while living overseas, and I began with a group of teachers who could not have been more authentic: they were native Indians who actually speak and read sanskrit, and had been practicing yoga as a daily element of their lives since birth for no other reason than it is a fundamental part of their lives. That is a lifestyle. These men – they were all men – were extremely orthodox. They were not burning sage, or telling me about my moon cycle and my divine feminine, or being self deprecating and silly, or having live music, or wearing fancy clothes; and they would have never criticized another tradition or practice (read: lifestyle) because that is not their focus. They came to class. The opened with mantra. They instructed and guided the class. They ended the class. Certainly they explained the benefits of poses and explained how women should not practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times, and no one should practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times. They were unforgiving and diligent in their dedication to the practice, and if you wanted to be under their wing, to your practice as well.

This was the yoga imprint I came up with. As a result I happen to have a very orthodox practice. I have strong alignment. I know the sutras. I know the history. I understand how to listen to my body. I also enjoyed the traditional and disciplined nature of my early teachers. They sent me to India and I found myself in an ashram that would never make the cut for my current studio. Simply put, it is too Indian. This too, is a lifestyle.

The thing is, I still like the #whitepeopledoingyoga thing that is going on here in the US. I do not find my yoga background and the myriad interpretations of yogic lifestyle mutually exclusive. Different, yes. But I think the combination lets me get more out of my practice.

These days as I continue to grow my own practice I find myself observing a lot more. This is a big step for me to be able to relax and look outward rather than be fraught with concern about whether or not someone (who I have a 99% probability of not even knowing based on my reluctance to make my yoga lifestyle overly social) thinks I am “doing it right” or “good enough”. When the teacher says “Okay Level 2 and Level 3…” and the ego kicks in desiring to be Level 2 or Level 3, I am better at knowing what is Level Me. (This whole levels thing? So #whitepeopledoingyoga.)

As someone who has always considered herself somewhat of an athlete (save for that 18 month period in which I took a seriously over-zealous approach to the Freshman 15), and also someone who simply does not know how to not be self-conscious about her body, I have found yoga to be a salvation. I love the physicality of it, and I am stronger now than I have been probably at any other time in my life in spite of a less functional body. I love the way I feel when I go into the studio and that I no longer have that feeling like yoga is on my to do list for the day – but that it is a part of my day. I love that I can do some crazy hard asanas and I am earning to accept that I may never be able to do some others. I love that I can surprise my students by beating them in a handstand contest. I love that I am learning  – after eight years of effort – to actually meditate. I love that I have a life that allows me to do yoga whenever I want. I love wearing yoga pants… all the time. I love looking at amazing and beautiful people doing insane asana in beautiful places. I love that #whitpeopledoingyoga in San Francisco underestimate my yoga knowledge all the time because they just finished a 200 hour teacher training. I love that yoga is so dynamic that I can see the changes in my body, my classmates, the demographics and styles of the classes.

And the things I do not like about yoga it turns out are the same things I don’t like in the world: inauthenticity and falseness, insecurity, inaccuracy, gimmickry, arrogance… But the best thing about yoga is I can look at those things now and not like them and let them go. It is like my own little serenity prayer: yoga grant me the mindfulness to accept the things I cannot change, the focus to change the things I can, and the balance to know it is probably all my perception anyhow.

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