Recently, over a soup and salad lunch at my favorite within-walking-distance café, a friend jokingly said to me, “So, what’s the deal with yoga?”
Me: “Oh, yeah. I teach yoga full time, now. No big deal, really. I love yoga and I love teaching, so my life is pretty much the best.”
Him: “So, no big deal, you just tell people how to stretch and relax…?”
Me: “Yeah, n.b.d.” <btw, n.b.d. is the only text-talk acronym that I condone in spoken conversation. It’s hilarious.> “You just stretch, and learn to relax into yourself and eventually… improve everything in your entire life and begin to transform the way you perceive and react in the world to become more conscious and aware, more compassionate and whole, more happy and continuously healthy… n.b.d.”
Him: “Right. Everything in your entire life changes. And you can also put your legs behind your head. No big deal.”
When someone relatively new to yoga conjures a mental image of a yoga class, he imagines a candlelit room filled with people in home-spun wool socks and tie-dyed bell bottoms sprawled on the floor in utterly impossible body configurations. Or he imagines a mirror-lined multi-purpose gym room packed with sweaty guys in neon shorts and hott girls in spandex leotards spotting each other in handstands. He may think that doing yoga will help him lose a few extra pounds or stretch out his shoulders from years of lifting and plyo exercises. It probably will. Come on in. If you take enough yoga classes, you probably have a six-pack, a good butt, and flexible shoulders. If you work hard enough, your body will let go of years of tension in the hips, recover from stress in the low back, and become reasonably flexible. But you’ll be missing the point.
Yoga may appear to be merely (or impressively) stretching the muscles in the body; it is so much more than that. Yoga is actually a stretch of the mind, the breath, and the spirit.
Why do I practice and teach yoga? Because I’m captivated by the idea of healing my body in order to heal my mind, my heart, and my community. Because I simply love the way my body feels after practicing yoga. Because I crave the promised moment of stillness that is undeniably healing after a yoga practice. Because I admire the communities within the walls of yoga studios, created by people of all sizes and ages who wish to create peace within their own hearts.
Yoga invites the practitioner to undertake a beautiful journey to discover self-knowledge. World-renowned yoga instructor Seane Corn reminded me that, as a yoga teacher, my job is not to teach anything at all.
My job is to create a space within a yoga class for my students to uncover what is already within their hearts: pure, divine light and love.
So in some ways, yes, yoga is no big deal. Any person of any age and any shape can do it. One of my favorite students, Shalimar, started her practice with me when she was six weeks old. She wasn’t fit or toned; she didn’t even wear yoga clothes, just a diaper and onesie. Another one of my favorite students, Dale, is 72 and arthritic, so he definitely doesn’t put his legs behind his head or do handstands. Any person, any time, any place: if you are breathing then you are reaching out with your Spirit, invoking healing and grace into our body. If you are moving with awareness, which is what we practice in a yoga class by taking shapes with our body, then you are consciously transforming your experience with your life.
The deal with yoga is this: because you are alive, you are blessed. Because you are breathing, you are blessed. Because you are moving, you are blessed. You are entitled to a life that is filled with compassion, with health, and with happiness simply because at your core you are nothing but pure, divine light and love.
Come take a class with me. Go take a class with anyone. No Big Deal: Just Breathe. Heal. Transform.