“Should I give up on Yoga?” I ask myself this. Much too often. But time and again, I come back. Because there are many, many benefits of yoga asanas.
Let me start by admitting with some shame — I suck at Yoga. The poses are too hard, the contortions unbelievable, and the instructions hardly decipherable over the protests of my screaming mind. Despite the fact that every time I read in an encouraging article or I’m told by my teacher that Yoga is a journey, you’re competing with no one but yourself, it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, I’m thinking to myself, hell, how’s that person older and fatter than me able to do that? How? How?
My Yoga classmates make me annoyingly envious of their Yoga prowess. Sometimes to avenge myself, I gloat over the class’s weak performers, throwing them smug side-glances, but that’s rare.
Nevertheless, I force myself to go to every class, three days a week, because Yoga is changing me in subtle ways, benefits I’ve only just started noticing. I’d heard of this from my Yoga fanatic friends, and I poohed-poohed their advice for a long time, but I see now what they were talking about. And I hope it’s not the impact of blood rushing to my brain as a result of a headstand that’s making me say these things. (By the way, that feels really good.)
So what is Yoga teaching me?
To slow down
Yoga teaches patience.
Sometimes the classes are two hours long, and in the business that is life with competing commitments and never enough time, I often wonder if it’s worth spending two precious hours merely stretching. I’d rather jump up and down to aggressive counting, or pump iron, or run five miles, do something whose physical ramifications I can see and feel in my body.
So, at the start of every Yoga class, my mind’s protesting, it was a mistake, never again, two hours… you’ve got to be kidding me, but after a while when the body and my thoughts settle into the inevitability of it, my mind slows down and accepts. I listen to my body, I listen to my thoughts, I feel the slow deliciousness of pleasure and pain coursing through my muscles. I slow down. That, my friend, is a great achievement.
Life lesson: Slow down. Accept what’s in your life. There’s no rush or need to prove anything.
Have I already said it? The poses are hard! How does the teacher actually distort his or her body into an Eka Hasta Vrksasana (One Handed Tree Pose) or a Gandha Bherundasana (Formidable Face Pose)? They have to be born like that, it’s impossible to learn those as an adult. As I balk and stare, shaking my head, the teacher smiles gently and assures me, I used to be like that. Hang on. You’ll get there.
And you know what, gradually I’m able to. It’s a long, arduous route, but I am able to hang on more and more. I can now face up easily enough in Urdhvamukha shvanasana (upward facing dog) without touching my knees to the floor, and stay on in a chakrasana (Wheel pose) longer, at peace with my pain. I’m learning to hang on.
As I focus on my breath and cry out mentally, there does come a time when the teacher’s count reaches to ten, and (s)he asks us to disentangle ourselves from whatever weird pose our limbs were solidified in. That time does come.
Life lesson: Feeling pain? Stick with it. Ride it through. This too shall pass.
Yoga feels like a dance form, and I’ve reconnected with my body to understand it better in order to perform it. I used to run a lot before, but after a spate of knee injuries, I decided to take a break from it. Running made me acutely aware of my body too, but it felt more like a goal had to be reached. Go faster, go longer, break the body to better a target.
On the contrary, Yoga teaches me to understand my body and work with it. To connect with it. To appreciate it. To never push too hard, but hard enough. And only I was going to know what was enough.
Life lesson: Physical health is everything. Work with your body to achieve your mind’s goals.
Trying chakrasana anywhere I can
Perhaps Yoga is not the answer to life’s questions. I wouldn’t even consider it to be the best of all exercise forms in existence today. But I believe it’s a sound life philosophy, complementary with other pursuits. Its benefits are known to be substantial, and I’m quite keen to experience them. I hope yoga strengthens my mind enough to stick with it and one day I’ll know it all!