When I began my second yoga teacher training over two years ago, I didn’t know what, exactly, it was that I was looking for. I knew I felt a little lost, adrift, not quite sure how I got to where I was in my life. I might have been looking for or some kind of magical experience that would teleport me into another body, another circumstance, another life—that would fix whatever it was that was causing a pervading experience of restlessness. I thought the teachings of yoga might provide this for me.
Well, of course they didn’t—stripped away of its oft-consumer oriented mystique, yoga is not magical. After an intense year of yoga teacher training, I did not (and still do not) exude a permanent aura of inner peace. I did not (and still do not) smell like patchouli. I did not teleport to a life spent eating fruit in Bali. I still face the same struggles. I still have, like everyone else, a complex life to live within a complex web of other lives.
Yoga is not magic, but...
But the thing about yoga is, if it is practiced every day, it can change the way a person relates to what’s going on within themselves and around them in that complex web. By practicing yoga, I don’t mean completing a set of postures on a fancy mat in a quiet room (though this is often lovely). I mean learning to feel through a body that might be shut off from feeling. I mean noticing what your body does in response to emotion, to stress, to joy. I mean noticing the connection between your body and the ground you walk on, the air you breathe, the lake you hear as you walk every day along its shores. To breathe when your kids are hanging off your pant legs while you are trying to make dinner.
Yoga isn't just poses on a fancy mat
Anything to which you bring attention and awareness of your breath is yoga. My very wise yoga teacher gave me the practice of walking outside while listening to upbeat music every day, a very practical suggestion that got sun on my face, my body moving, and my cerebellum washed by the power of music (Daniel Levithin’s marvellous book, This is Your Brain on Music explains why music is so powerful). Your yoga practice might be breathing into your back every time you get into your car. Or spending five minutes a day with your legs up the wall. Or praying. Or walking for fifteen minutes a day around your yard or in the woods, listening to the generative world, or what poet Robert Bringhurst calls, the what-is around you.
TKS Desikachar, one of the great yoga teachers said, “Change is not a direct or even an indirect consequence of a yoga or any other practice. We cannot depend on it. What we can count on gaining from our practice is a quieter mind—somehow the heaviness and jumpiness vanish.”
Meaning remains in the sensory life of the body
I can attest to this. Through almost two years of daily walking practice (note, no quick fix magical moment), which has now expanded to include meditation and asana (poses), I can see more clearly—my patterns, both skillful and unskillful, and often, because I can see them and feel them in my body, I can work towards changing them. I still get wrapped up in my own mental dramas, but I know I’m getting tangled much earlier than I used to, and I can begin to work my way out again. My body—and so my mind—feels daily like it is a breathing part of things: the sap running in the maple trees, the return of the red-winged blackbirds, the stillness of a windless lake. Through direct experience, I’ve come to learn, as ecologist David Abram writes, “meaning remains rooted in the sensory life of the body—it cannot be completely cut off from the soil of direct, perceptual experience without withering and dying.”
I don’t think I even had an idea of how much I had changed until just this morning when I was flipping through my early notes of yoga teacher training. In response to the prompt “What is the greatest and grandest vision you have for yourself in your life,” I had written:
- the tenor of each day has a deep, resonant quality
- spend hours writing
- fill the other hours with abiding love
- have rich, meaningful work in the lives of others
- come to the end of my life surrounded by the love I have cultivated.
It’s amazing to me that I’m sitting here today knowing this is now the daily structure of my life—with all its challenges and fallings-down and misgivings.
I am also amazed and grateful for each of my students. It is my hope that through the teachings of yoga, they too will find the connections that make their lives deeply resonant or strengthen the connections they already know are there.
I also hope that if this resonates with you, you will continue coming back here, reading, and offering comments about your journey as we learn together.