My Philosophy. Well, at Least, Today

June 3, 2008 at 10:06 am | Posted in learning and growing, meditations, observations, philosophy, practice off the mat | 4 Comments

I have been thinking a lot about how I practice – and teach – yoga. The thinking is vast and expansive; there isn’t just one factor that comes into play as I formulate and adjust my philosophy about this experience, and I find that every new student, every new lesson, and every new idea influences – even if just a little – the way I live my practice.

I had a private client the other day, who was brand new to the adventure of yoga, and I was trying to explain to her that there’s so much more to yoga than the effort of putting one’s body into pretzel-like poses. I wanted her to get the idea that where she is right now is perfectly okay – it doesn’t matter that she can’t get her heels on the floor in downward dog; it’s okay that she can’t reach her toes in forward fold – what matters is that she finds her best expression of these poses today, because tomorrow will be different.

I have found, through a lot of personal experience, that people (in general) take yoga WAAY too seriously. The get all stressed out about how often they practice or how deeply they can get into a pose or what other people – or their teachers – think of how they look or of how “yogic” they are. They spend tons of money on props and products and clothes so they can “fit in” and look the part.

Instructors are sometimes just as bad. They adhere, with the tenacity of a barnacle on the side of a pier, to one philosophy and one practice. They “encourage” (please read that for the euphemism that it is) their participants to do poses one way – their way – and to push themselves beyond their limits. They promote one way of thinking to the exclusion of others, and they end up limiting the experience of their participants with their own orthodoxy.

All of this – every last bit of it – is all contrary to what I think yoga is supposed to be about. Yoga, for me, anyway (and I don’t even imagine I speak for anyone else) is about finding balance in one’s self. It’s about getting the right mix of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy working in harmony in one’s life.

The physical practice of yoga is about challenging oneself gently and kindly; about finding your edges and nudging yourself up against – or through – them. It’s about encouraging (really encouraging – no euphemisms this time) yourself to find out what you can – and can’t – do. It’s about learning that sometimes you’re on and sometimes you’re off and it’s about being okay with that. It’s about gaining perspective. So you fall out of tree pose this afternoon; who cares? What higher purpose is a perfect tree pose going to serve in your life? It may well be that the lessons you take away from falling out of poses are far more valuable than those you’d get from being picture-perfect.

The emotional practice of yoga has to do with understanding your relationships – to yourself, to your family and friends, and to the world around you. Yoga has taught me more about compassion than anything else; when I learned, though my physical practice, to be compassionate with myself, I found that I was able to expand that capacity outward. I understood – truly understood – that I am a pebble in the pond; that all my actions have consequences that I may not be immediately aware of and, more importantly, that I have a great deal of control over those actions. I have choices, and I can be mindful about what kind of energy I radiate. I may not be able to choose how people treat me or what happens to me in the larger world, but I certainly have control over how I choose to respond to those things. I can react out of love, or I can react out of fear. Yoga has taught me to take the time to be still and quiet and to make those choices mindfully.

Finally, yoga helps me to locate my place in the Universe. I am able to connect to my higher self through my practice and no, I’m not talking about some voodoo channeling or astral-projection, either. I’m talking about making the very important recognition that I belong here, that I am a part of the larger picture, and that the energy I bring to this party is vitally important. I’m talking about learning to make those choices, in my physical and emotional practice, that resonate with me on a spiritual level. I’m talking about being mindfully aware of always striving for my own highest and best expression of my own self – of my own soul – and of playing a part in helping others to make that recognition, too.

That’s how I feel about yoga today. I’m completely open to the idea that I may learn something new this afternoon that changes how I think about my practice, but for right now, this feels right.



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  1. Just found this blog of yours, which is neat. I have been downloading an interesting set of Yoga podcasts that look easy enough to start with, which is what I want.

    Any advice for a beginner or at least someone who wants to begin?


  2. Here’s the advice I give new folks coming to my class:

    1. If it hurts, DON’T DO IT. Challenging is good, painful is bad, and unless you’re in labor, this is ALWAYS true. Learn the difference and then honor it.

    2. You don’t need to look like the instructor or anyone else in the class. Do what you can do today. Tomorrow will be different.

    3. If you have a question, ASK IT. Don’t worry about disturbing the flow of the class – your instructor (in my classes, that’s me, of course) is there to instruct and to make sure you are safe and successful. Don’t suffer through something you’re not sure about; if you’re wondering about it, chances are better than even that someone else is, too.

    Really, that’s the best advice I can give. Go slowly and deliberately all the time, don’t do ANYTHING that hurts, and honor your edges. Once you’re ready, scope out a bunch of classes and find an instructor who makes you comfortable. Finding a teacher you like is going to make all the difference in your practice. If you dread the classes, you’re not going to go, right?

  3. I was talking with a yoga instructor last week and she said, “They take it way too seriously.” She was talking about the people in her class. “It’s supposed to be fun.”

  4. They DO take it way too seriously. I make it my mission to lighten them the fuck up every chance I get. If I don’t get the class to laugh (preferably at themselves, but I’ll take laughing at me if that’s the best I can get) at least once a session, I consider it a wasted hour.

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