Over a decade ago, a colleague who’d been purging his closet tossed me a VHS tape and said, “Have you ever tried yoga? You might like it.”
It was 20 minutes of power yoga led by Rodney Yee, who was completely unknown to me at the time. “Twenty minutes? Sounds manageable,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t. I desperately tried to keep up. I fell over with a thud a few times and worried I was harassing the downstairs neighbors with my klutziness. I had no idea yoga would make my heart feel it was falling out of my chest and throw me this much off-kilter. I plopped onto the couch and vowed that yoga and I were done—until the next day, when a combination of stubbornness and determination got the better of me.
I had about a month-long affair with VHS-Rodney Yee before one day off the mat led to another and then another… you know the drill.
While I had no concept of the greater world yoga offered, of what yoga was all about beyond “gets into poses without falling over,” something brought me to yoga and sustained my interest, if even for a while. That was something.
I think it’s immensely important to pay close attention to what leaps out of the void to say hello and tug at the heart.
I’m still not sure I can pinpoint exactly what that something is, to this day. It wasn’t love at first sight for me and yoga. I didn’t go the way of Lululemon or start seeking out classes around town. I had no idea what a mala was or that yoga positions were commonly referred to in Sanskrit. I had never even contemplated breath’s connection to movement.
So it goes without saying, I felt far from a warrior.
Warriors are one of the personas we aim to embody in yoga. Others include kings, mermaids, divine vessels and open-chested channels for love. You can see picture-perfect representations of these all over social media in various shades of ocean and sunset. Of course, I know that people cannot possibly walk around in a perpetual state of bliss, but we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s equally evident to me, through reading awakened works like the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and BKS Iyengar’s writings, that it’s possible to feel much more connected to the universe than I do most of the time.
“You do not need to seek freedom in a different land, for it exists with your own body, heart, mind, and soul.” ~ BKS Iyengar
I long to understand this state of existence, not intellectually, but in my own heart and from direct experience. This is my motivation for embracing a committed yoga practice.
I couldn’t have conceived of this goal when I clumsily tried to follow along to that Rodney Yee VHS tape years ago. At some point after becoming acquainted with yoga, even if our initial target was to get fit or flexible, we come to an “ah-ha” moment, even if for a few seconds, and catch on to a wider world we could not have anticipated. That offers thrilling possibilities.
When this happens, yoga starts to feel less about doing and more about a way of being.
The word “yogi” starts to sound less ethereal and remote and more like something to which we can aspire. To me, this was in some ways a return to the beginning, to that initial attraction to yoga, but with a deeper and more informed awareness of how far it’s possible to go. It has also had the effect of highlighting how distant we can feel from our goal, how imperfect we are in our practice.
We might, as I became, be plagued by doubt; incidentally known in Buddhism as one of the “five hindrances” to a meditation practice, which I think perfectly applies well here. In order to sabotage our practice before it can bloom, we might doubt the authenticity of our teachers, of the practice of yoga itself and our own ability to embody the yogic principles. I’ve also found in my own experience where doubt thrives, guilt is not far behind. I’m sure many can relate to the guilt and feelings of failure I’ve experienced when I’ve allowed my asana or meditation practice to lapse.
Despite the strong feelings of doubt that we really deserve to be considered yogis, I’ve come to realize from years of experience that the seeds which were already within us when we first encountered yoga do not disappear, but grow each time we have the authentic intention to develop our practice. These seeds are not easily destroyed by doubt and guilt; it’s been a complete joy to realize that they are much stronger than that.
I believe that we all have the seeds for awakening within us. The ways in which we discover and nourish them will differ because we are all different. It is up to each of us to find within ourselves the kindness and compassion that most help these seeds to grow, so that we can come to our practice with invigoration and happiness, no matter how long it takes us to get there.
There will be winters when the growth seems to stop altogether, when every last part of our being seems to wilt and atrophy. However, if we are patient and persistent, we will come to spring and summer, and we’ll see that winter is part of the nature of things.
Becoming a yogi, I think, is about surrendering the ego that creates doubt and guilt and immersing into the deep well of wisdom the ancient tradition of yoga offers us. The more open we are to discovery, the more we’ll understand that we are not and have never been alone in our perfectly flawed humanity. Love and support are always within reach and grow every time we consciously breathe into them.
*This article was published on The Tattooed Buddha.