Tuesday, April 20, 2010

(It's alright ma) It's only yoga

It seems that a lot of yoga practitioners feel a sense of pressure to live some kind of extraordinary life.   And when we're not busy feeling pressured to do more, we feel guilty about the things we are doing.  And as if that weren't complicated enough, we then feel longing for the things we aren't doing because we feel pressured or guilty enough not to do them!  I mean, whew, how do any of us even have time for yoga amidst all that?

I mean, isn't yoga supposed to liberate us from all that jazz?  All those chitta vritti (cheeky monkey?) thoughts that keep pestering at our brains like buzzing mosquitoes, homing in to attack us, all those doubts and ideals and, well, all of that?  After all, we are in this to find calming thoughts, centeredness, groundedness, self-awareness, self-confidence, cures for our illnesses and hopefully a bit of muscle tone to boot.  In short, we are in search of perfection.  Through Yoga.  Right?

Ah.  Is that what it comes down to?  Are we so convinced that somewhere out there, there is One Thing that will make us happy, that we are willing to give Yoga it's 5 minutes of fame to see if it does the trick? Nope?  Oh well, back to money, fame, fortune, weight loss or whatever else is on the list.

Sarcasm aside, my teacher taught me about renunciation.  When we look at yoga philosophy, we encounter notions like Ahimsa, non-harming, and Aparigraha, non-grasping / moderation.  Our first reaction is to immediately pounce on the material implications of these yamas, or restraints.  So, we practice Ahimsa by giving up eating meat because it harms animals.  We practice Aparigraha by giving up potato chips, or that pair of jeans you've been wanting.  Or we tell ourselves we didn't really want it anyway, because that wouldn't be yogic, right?

So our immediate reactions to the yamas are reactions of renunciation.  Giving things up is long acclaimed in our culture.  I mean, nobody loves a good martyr like we do (ok, well maybe some people do, but anyway, the point being, we love a good martyr like anybody!)

But, my teacher reminds us, the second Yama is Satya, or truthfulness.  And these types of renunciation which are accompanied by a sense of sacrifice, which are done because of an expectation of the result of the action or done because of how the outside world will perceive them, are not in line with Satya.

The difference is choice, and how you embrace it.  When we give something up, we go into it with the mentality that we are sacrificing something in order to attain something else.  Meat or jeans for yogic goodness.  Etc.  But according to my teacher, if you spend every day wishing you could eat meat, or have chips, or wear those jeans, then you are not living your satya, not living truthfully to yourself.

He believes that somewhere along the line, as you gradually reconnect with your true self, non-harming and moderation become things that become natural to you.  Instead of renouncing material goods in hopes of winning brownie points, you will reach a point where you truly no longer want to buy more things.  Instead of giving up eating junk food because you think you're supposed to, you just stop buying it out of a real desire to feed your body non-processed food.  Instead of wishing you could have those jeans, you become deeply disgusted with consumerism and the inequality of sweat shop labour.  In short, you live your yamas because they feel right, not because you have a desire to Be Right.  And when you do this, negative emotions like guilt, jealousy, and martyrdom will fall by the wayside, because you will be living in balance with yourself.

I feel the same way about the physical practice of Yoga.  Today while I was on my mat, I was practicing away, wondering how long I should practice, and what, and thinking how I wish I practiced more, and all kinds of other things, and then it slowly crept into my head... you know what?  It doesn't matter.  It's only Yoga!

I know - Gasp.  Right?  But there it is.  It's not life or death, it's not family, it's not love, it's not any of the things that really and truly I can't survive without.  It's not how I want to measure myself or define myself.  I am not the successes or the limitations of my body.  I am not my practice.  I am not my asana, pranayama, pratyahara or the rest of it.  Yes, I love my practice, and  yes, it makes me feel good.  But it's not the be all and end all of my day.  It's not how I feed myself or what keeps me warm at night.  It's only a body on a smelly mat.  It's only Yoga.   And that is liberating.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
(From Bob Dylan's "It's alright Ma (I'm only bleeding) )


  1. It is only yoga and the only person who puts any pressure on me... well it's me! Sometimes it's hard to remember that.

  2. YES! Totally. And it's taken me a while to work this out too.

    This morning I did five minutes of yoga before I jumped on my bike to head into work. That's right, just FIVE minutes! A couple of sun salutations and a few extras that my body felt the need for, with a focus on my breathing.

    And that's all I had to do in order to feel aligned and ready to face the day. Not every practice has to be an intense 1-2 hour event. Yoga has to fit into our lives, not the other way around :)

  3. I just finished a weekend workshop where we talked about this very thing. Turns out the only thing we really need to work on is self-love.

    Once we have that we can be kind to ourselves and others, truthful, non-grasping, connected to divine, and all the other Yamas and Niyamas fall into place.

    Let's all stop giving ourselves the guilt and shame we learned growing up and be nice to ourselves instead.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. I love this comment from svasti: Yoga has to fit into our lives, not the other way around :)

    SO true. I often guilt myself for not doing more yoga. What a waste of time and energy. And totally un-yogic.

  5. Truly a good reminder - thank you. I often tell my beginner classes, "It's just yoga," but sometimes I forget to remember this myself.

  6. Thanks everyone for all the great comments. I feel sometimes we get so worked up about it all and get so hard on ourselves when really, it's only yoga! :)

    I think we bring all our baggage to the mat - and that can be a good thing, helping us to work through our issues. But we have to make sure that the issues don't take over our Yoga, too! :)

  7. I have a tendency to get really wrapped up in yoga--mainly that I feel I'm not "yogic" enough. I get paranoid about all the knowledge out there that I don't know. I need to let it all go and just enjoy my practice!

  8. it's only yoga, and, like the best friend you'll ever have, it's always there to come back to. even if you are mean and ignore it for years.

  9. Truly a great post! Thank you for posting this. I especially love the idea that we begin to "naturally" give things up because we want to, not because we're supposed to. I've seen myself do this over the years with certain things (buying retail clothes, processed foods, etc.), and what happens, I think, is a natural acceptance and understanding of what is most meaningful (as opposed to what we're told is meaningful). I don't know if that makes any sense, but there you go :).

  10. @Babs - yes, I think this happens to all of us! But somewhere along the line we have to realise that it's not "yogic" to feel "not yogic". LOL.

    @Emma - heh heh, or even if you go a little crazy, make some bad choices, and then come limping back, it will never say "I told you so", but just embrace you and say "welcome home." ;)

    @Juliana - I love this idea too of naturally living the life we are meant to. I think that's a true marker of living true to yourself, or living Satya.