Photo via Tiarescott's Flickr.
Some of you may already know that I used to be a yoga teacher. I did my 250 hour Yoga Alliance certified training nearly 10 years ago and because I already had a career as a writer, I would teach on a rather comfortable schedule of substituting for my colleagues whenever they needed me, especially for my Iyengar-based mentor, Allaine. I occasionally led a class on Miami Beach and had some private clients, but I wasn't committed to it full time.
Years later, for a spell, while I was going through my reclusive phase and dealing with anxiety disorder, I stopped teaching and doing poses. But I never stopped practicing yoga. Yoga isn't just about poses. The time I took away from the world to heal myself, to work with a life coach on my anxiety issues, get rid once and for all being a victim and getting caught up in drama -- all that was an act of yoga.
DON'T "BUY" INTO IT
Yoga has become way too commercialized here in the United States. While this is a blessing in disguise -- heck, at least you are doing something -- the real point of yoga is not to have a tight ass or spend bucket loads of cash on Lululemon hot tops and pants, traction towels, fancy mat bags and all that gear.
Yoga is not Bikram Choudhury who had the audacity to trademark 26 poses in a practice that should be FREE for all to share. What yogi drives around Los Angeles in Rolls Royces?
Yoga is not wearing birkenstocks or eating granola all the time. Yoga is not having to change your name to something Indian just because it sounds cool. I don't have to wear a sari or put a bindi on my third eye to be a yogi. I am Spanish, damn it, and I'm proud of my heritage. I can still be a yogi even if I still wear stilletos, don't have a sanskrit name and don't hail from the continental land mass we know now politically and culturally as India.
And yet in writing all this, I see the irony. Lululemon makes nice garb. There's nothing wrong with that. And of course I don't hate Bikram. Yoga is also a business and teachers have to make a living. God bless them. They are the true health providers of this country because yoga is an amazing practice for preventive health. If you do any yoga -- even limited Bikram -- that's good. Just do me a favor and give me a plank pose now and then, ok?
What I'm trying to tell you is this: less is more and don't be bedazzled by any glamor or retail or celebrity. Yoga is sweat, grit and constant introspection, a positive mind fuck. Witnessing your deepest heart self, stretching yourself emotionally so you can evolve and be a better you. Being patient in a traffic jam. Smiling at an idiot who just pissed you off. Laughing when shit doesn't work out and having faith against all odds. Yoga is something you are, not just something you do.
THE REAL YOGA
Yoga is an ancient art and spiritual science of the body, mind and soul. The early practitioners were probably part of some exclusive caste where women weren't even allowed, doing poses on a dirt floor over a palm frond mat or something. Think twelve year old skinny boys who were limber enough to squeeze themselves into a pretzel, living a monastic life, reading volumes of arcane tomes that are pre-Biblical and would probably put most people to sleep.
That's not exactly glamorous, is it?
Of course it's wonderful that yoga is universal now, with people practicing all over the world. No one "owns" yoga. It is not "Indian" in that sense.
There are eight branches to yoga and asana (poses) is only one of them. If you are lying in bed in and there is oxygen coursing through your bloodstream, you can still do yoga. You can do yoga in a wheelchair. You can do yoga if you are overweight and stiff as a door. You don't need any fancy shit to do yoga.
I practice poses again now and I also do bramacharya -- this is celibacy to live a healthy, drama-free life, being selective in the process of finding a loving companion and trusting that the right love is already in my heart, whether or not there is a man by my side. There is also the path of dharma -- something that has been on my mind a lot lately -- where you choose a vocation to do good. You devote yourself to help others.
The ultimate aim of all your downward dogs and headstands and twists is to get your body into shape so you can meditate. The purpose here is to be healthy physically so you can do good in the world and your body becomes second nature, something you don't think about. But the goal is spiritual. Not religious, mind you, but spiritual.
NAMASTE OLD MAT
I am still practicing poses on the same old mat I had when I first walked into Allaine Stricklen's class at a gym in South Beach nearly 15 years ago. Obviously, the journey has been long and it has some wear and tear. I thought about buying a new one the other day and then I asked myself why? For vanity's sake?
The mat works. It does its job. It has been my friend all these years, putting up with me in countless practices when I felt sad or happy, just simply being in the process of living.
My relationship to my mat is intimate. It tells the story of who I am. It is not a dumb, invisible thing that just puts up with pressure from my hands and feet or the imprint of my ass. It is a space I create for myself where I can cultivate love, peace and joy.
And of course, the most important thing is what I do off the mat. It always cloaks me, even if I'm not standing on it. It's an incredibly important symbol for anyone who practices yoga. So what if mine has a few worn spots? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Yoga is about non-attachment, but I think I'll stay faithfully attached to my old mat.
I won't be buying a new mat any time soon and let's hope my old warrior mat takes me through many more years of resilient practice.
What is your relationship to your mat?