I have a love-hate relationship with Yoga. I admit it. There are many things that drive me nuts about the “Yoga movement” today. A over 130 billion dollar industry globally trying to convince us that we need proper yoga clothes, mats, blocks, straps, towels, bolsters, socks and gloves, tea mugs and more. Hindu gods and buddha decor from Walmart, crystals to cleanse the aura and align the chakras, and all for 9,99$. Listening to some of the media, you would think that practicing yoga basically makes you live healthy, happy, and forever young! And the perfect young, muscular model showing us how to be enlightened doing a handstand on one hand on the cliff high above the sea! So freeing!
And of course we all know that the reality is far from that. Even Yogis get sick and sore and even die sometime. Even Yogis can get fat and be bitchy!
Magazines tell us there are “5 steps to enlightenment”, or “3 poses to beat depression”, the “breathing to ease pain”, and the sequence to fall in love with yourself again. Simple Yoga is not enough any more, we have to invent something even better. Hot, cool, with goats, with beer, naked, acrobatic, therapeutic, shamanic, we compete to offer something new and improved.
As a Yoga instructor I often feel the pressure to act as a spiritual advisor, life coach, physical therapist, an entertainer, able to manage stress and anxiety and control pain, reverse infertility and ageing, be the perfect example of the perfect mom, partner, friend - simply a perfect being!
So, I often ask myself: What can Yoga actually do for me. How has it helped me and why am I still doing it? And what can I truthfully offer to my clients?
The answers to those questions and complex and I will probably all my life continue to look for them, but I can say that from my own experience of practicing and teaching Yoga over the last 30+ years:
There is no 1 (or 3 or 5) poses that heal specifically one disease or ailment. It is more the routine we develop and the mindset we develop on the mat every day. I heard last week an interview on radio with a young very successful musician who suffered a lot from mental distress. And when the interviewer asked her how she gets through all the practice, the work, the performances, the recordings, she answered: “I found the off-switch. I can now switch off my dark sides whenever I have to for work and go on doing what I need to do, then take time to deal with my health and well-being.”
I believe that coming to the yoga mat we learn exactly to develop that attitude, where no matter what ails us, we come anyway, sit down on our mat and do it anyway. Finding that “off-switch” for excuses. At the same time developing the presence to listen to our body and mind, and adjust in any way necessary to continue. And if that means that all we can do today is lying on the floor and practice deep breathing, that is enough! But do it!
And more often than not, we will discover that once we start with some breathing, it is okay to add a bit more - gentle stretches, sending that breath into the dark and achy corners of our body. Slowly our body uncurls and unfolds, creating space to breath, space to be - and other feelings, sensations, emotions and thoughts will flood through us. And we let them be, let them unfold as they will. Accepting whatever is right now, and working from there. A little step every day.
It’s those tiny steps we take every day, that I believe make the difference. Does it have to be a “classic Hatha Yoga pose”? No, I don’t believe so. I can be just a deep breath, a walk in the forest, swim in the river, a chat with a close friend, listening to music, dancing, creating art. We move our body to feel it, we feel our body to listen to it. It will let us know if we need to move more, less, or stop.
Then we apply this concept to everything else in our life that we do. Stop, breath, feel, listen: and follow what your body or your heart tells you.
A path of life, a long road. Not one pose, not one class, not one workshop. A lifelong companion to yourself. That’s what Yoga is for me.
Yoga instructors are not magicians, we are not doctors, nor physiotherapist, we are not life coaches, nor spiritual gurus, and we are certainly not perfect beings. But we can guide you to your heart.
It’s that simple - and that magnificent.