~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

For the Love of Yoga

May 7, 2012
She couldn't bend over and pick it up. She didn't look unwell, or even particularly old, but when she tried to retrieve the organic shampoo bottle she'd knocked off the shelf, she struggled.

I scoop up the container, put it back on the counter, and smile at her as she shuffles out of the health food store.

Wow, I think to myself, even bending over can be hard. Wow, I muse, the body can be so fickle and so frail, and life can be so hard. And wow, I think, I wonder what I can do to make sure my body and my life can flow with ease for as long as I possibly can.

I smile in relief when I realize that I long ago found my answer, one that can last a lifetime.

Sprinkling one's life with yoga is a good way to make sure you can pick things up off the ground. And reach the high shelf on your tippy-toes. And twist far enough around to see what's behind you when backing out of the parking lot.

And better yet, yoga has a mysterious way of leading us to health and happiness not just in body, but in mind and spirit, too. Yoga helps clear our minds and open our hearts in ways that cultivate harmony and happiness and ease. There is something magical about this ancient practice that fosters a deeper sense of communion with the whole wide world.

Is it possible to love an idea, a philosophy, a crazy way of contorting the body? Is it even sane to love something with its roots in a world you've never visited, in a language you cannot speak, with lofty aims that are so much deeper than simply touching your toes?

Apparently yes. Because as I stand here in the doorway of the health-food store with my son’s sweaty hand in mine, I am overcome by gratitude. I am seized with love for yoga's many gifts.

I want to climb atop the tallest building and shout out, "Yoga! Yoga! Please, let's all practice yoga! We'll be stronger, we'll be kinder, we'll cultivate peace and love and happiness for all!"

I don’t shout, or even mumble. I buy my milk and eggs and black bean salsa, and head out the door.

I do my best to not proselytize. I know that my answer isn't your answer. I'm not so far gone that I miss the fact that downward dogs and dancing warriors can incite eye rolls in others. And I know that you may find some other way to save your own life.

But the truth is that yoga saves me every day. When the kids are screeching and I want to run, I close my eyes, find my breath, and exhale until I can feel my feet on the ground again.

When my mind is overtaken by wild and uncontrollable worries, I sit and settle and unclench the death-grip I hold upon my life. I rest quietly until I can see the truth of the moment a little more clearly, and then act a little more wisely.

When I'm standing in front of a big decision, I fight my impulsivity and remind myself to slow down, to sit with what is, to wait patiently with an open heart until I feel the answer bubble up from within.

And when I'm feeling small and constricted, I climb onto my mat and stretch myself out into my full skin, which it turns out doesn't end with my body but reaches to the far ends of the universe. We are these small selves, but we are also yoked to something so vast and beautiful that it feels like the whole world.

The Buddha taught that there's no defeating the three realities of life: sickness, old age and death. I still tighten when this truth sinks into my bones. I've finally reached the age where I can no longer pretend I'm immortal. I've reached a place where the fragility of each living thing nearly knocks the wind out of me every single day.

But I have confidence in my answer, my response to life’s inevitable ups and downs. I'm sticking with yoga. I’m casting my lot with the clear-eyed wisdom and tender-hearted love that yoga conjures up from deep within.

The practice surely won’t spare us from sickness or from death, but it can save us from small mindedness and toxic fear and confusion and ill will.

And so, as I settle onto my yoga mat these days, waves of gratitude wash through me: gratitude for those Indian sages in loincloths who sat along the banks of the Ganges millennia ago, and thankfulness for the many teachers who traveled to far-off lands and brought these practices home to the west in forms we can understand.

I offer up deep bows of love for the friendships I've formed through shared love of the practice. And I nearly fall to the ground in adoration of my students, who so gracefully welcome all the yoga I offer them, who take it on as their own, and who sometimes even pass it on to others.

If you've already found yoga, you know just what I mean. You know how yoga can serve as a spiritual first-aid kit that's always by your side. And you've likely found your own ways to incorporate it into your life - even if it's been a while since you've made it to your mat.

Or, maybe you know someone who practices yoga, and you benefit from yoga's residual goodness, as the kindness it cultivates in your loved one inevitably dusts off onto you.

Or maybe, just maybe, you're ready to give it a try. You don't have to be able stand on one foot or hold your breath for two minutes or touch your toes or speak a single Sanskrit word. You need only bring your well-worn body to the mat, breathe deeply, and open your mind to the possibility that there's another way to live, that there's more to life than your small eyes can now see.

Wouldn't you like to be just a little more flexible in body, mind and spirit? Wouldn't you like to feel more deeply connected to everyone and everything around you? Wouldn't you like to grow a little kinder, a little more forgiving, a little more at ease?

Yoga can both ground and elevate you. Yoga can bring you wisdom and happiness and freedom and light. Yoga can return you to your truest self, bringing you clarity and love and peace.

And thankfully, the ancient and beautiful practice of yoga is available and in abundant supply, right here and right now. Please help yourself to all the luminous and enlivening gifts that yoga offers to the whole wide world.