Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Controversial Diary of a Yogi

My friend Tom asked me recently why he doesn't get down on his mat anymore even though he loves yoga.

I think a lot of people feel that way when it comes to all sorts of things that are good for them.

Mostly we are told to get some discipline.  Stay the course.  Hire a trainer. Watch a video.  Buddy up with someone.  Develop a routine. Not bad, all these suggestions, and they certainly can work to alter our behaviors. Isn't it true that the disciplined yogi - the accomplished athlete - the distance runner - is better off?

Isn't it?

I had to think for a minute what kind of support I could give my friend, and in offering something to him, I referenced what it is for me to honor my body even when I don't "feel " like doing my routines anymore.

I clearly recognized that most of the time I just go ahead and give myself the rest.

That's right, I rest, recover, recuperate, relax, retire, and acquiesce more or less completely to my resistance.

Now I know this is not the popular party line. A couple of decades in the fitness industry didn't fail to leave an impression. :) Take a look at the iconic Nike slogan making all sorts of waves pushing us to "just do it" and everybody numbly nodding their heads.  

It doesn't seem reasonable for a teacher, a practitioner, dare I say a mentor in the field to say go ahead, don't do it... 

But I am saying that. 

The operative here is what's really going on when you don't feel like doing what is supposedly so good for you to do.

A few years ago when I was in the midst of huge life altering events I suspended my yoga practice.  That's right - suspended it altogether after 30 non-stop years.  Now why do that you might ask, when it would seem to be the single most needed anchor in the midst of so much challenge and change?

I did it because I needed to go in the direction of change - and I needed to do it body, mind and soul.  

It is an amazing thing to be without almost all of your familiar reference points and habits.  Life can open dramatically and you can open into it in thoroughly new and unexpected ways.  Taking days - weeks - even years off from an activity that doesn't inspire you can be healthy and wise.  Mind you, this is not the same as becoming an advocate for sloth, yet I have found there is rarely much glory is doing what is not wanted, or in refusing to listen, as if "staying the course" must be preferable to the "cease and desist" message blinking away in our consciousness.

Take therapy for example.  How many people do you know that are still seeing their therapist? Month after month - year after year.  You get a clue to the attachment in the language itself: "I'm seeing my therapist..."

My my my my my. What's the matter with us?  When did we forget that therapy is meant to be like a boat ferrying us from one shore to another...we are supposed to get out on the other side. Go! Live! Prosper!

Often the attachment we have to familiarity and the routine of a thing that is good for us can mask the need for wholehearted change.  It can take real courage to see ourselves hiding out in the weeds of the known, doing things that are "right" rather than diving into new territory. It's an (almost) foolproof method of staying stuck.  And who in their right mind will call you out on it? After all, "it's good for you!"

One of the first books on yoga I ever read was by Bubba Free John and it was called The Eating Gorilla Comes in Peace.  Hefty book that, with all sorts of new thought at the time, but the thing I remember most from it was the idea that the mat is just the mat.  The practice is the practice.  As much as we need a practice so we can grow into our best selves, in the end we are meant to BE that very self without the practice that gets us there.

Now that's an idea...

So back to the mat and the nitty gritty.

Toms problem wasn't that he had stopped his yoga practice.  That was just the symptom of something else.  Tom had disconnected from nourishing himself altogether. What Tom needed was inspiration and a thread of desire to keep him connected to what felt good for his body.

I offered him my own recipe of walks, nourishing food with lots of water, and abdominal work.  Yup, that's the holy trinity for me. Ab crunches particularly make me feel alive.  150 at a time to be exact.  Like brushing my teeth, it is a simple part of my daily - and desired - routine.

During my own separation from the mat, the crunches kept me in touch with my body as a strong physical vehicle, the healthy food and hydration an honorable gift throughout my hiatus, and the changes that were occurring in my life kept on changing.   Many an aspiring yogi will stay on the mat rather than change his heart, his habitat, his relationship or his job, all the while convincing himself that the practice and the sweat and the accomplishment leads to growth while actually the box is getting tighter and smaller and more form fitting by the day.

The inspiration to embody my physical form never left.  My own threads of desire were found walking among the trees and beside the river and around the winding blocks of my new neighborhood.  The song of my soul never quieted - just the venue for it's expression.  If I had forced myself to the mat I would have been focusing on the wrong item. More important was to keep my aliveness sacred, however it appeared.

As I let myself be and the sands settled, lo and behold the mat beckoned me again, only now it is different. More free.  Less self-conscious.  I have brought my self to the practice rather than the practice defining me.

The less of it now is so much more.

As for Tom, he reported a new appreciation of his vitality with the lighter vegetarian fare he's been eating. What started with my pea soup recipe and my husband Bob's thin crust pizza has expanded.  The crunches have given him a sense of embodiment and the walks offer time he shares with his wife.  For him, the mat is right around the corner as his desire for it grows.

Whether you are beginning a new physical practice, maintaining one you enjoy, or letting something go, the growth you seek will be found in your willingness to change in the direction of your true heart's desire.

Develop yourself
Appreciate your body.
Find what makes you happy.
Engage rather than force.
Be "one with" rather than power over.
Disconnect from needing and move toward embracing
Nourish yourself
Nourish your desire.
Love yourself and say so - in the mirror. 
Best of all, keep smiling.

Let me know how it goes.

namaste :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Gayle... just want I wanted to hear. I'm finding much pleasure sorting through life's accumulations of 'stuff', preparing for a huge change from the routine of living in the same house for over 30 years. While Ron don't definitely know where we are going to live, all the possibilities seem exciting.

Hmmm. Instead of reaching blindly for that knife that is always in the same place... well, having to look for it consciously. Sometimes it's those little things that bring renewal.

Must dash... Thanks for your inspiring blog!
Carole Hovis