“Well I don’t how you feel about Pilates,” a longtime student said to me after class, “but I imagine we’re on the same page.”
“I love it!” I chirped with a grin. I first took Mat Pilates in college and have enjoyed its simple dynamic movements ever since.
“Oh, then we’re definitely not on the same page.”
The Real Thing
The students I teach come for a YOGA class. What exactly does that mean?
(Note: don’t ask me!)
Last spring, a student loyal to a particular yogic tradition crouched beside my mat after class to tell me about what his teacher had to say about it.
“You see, Sarah, someone in my class asked: ‘What do you think about all these studios on every corner that blend Yoga and Pilates?'”
(Let’s pause to agree that the names Yoga-lates or PiYo may not be the finest products of this merger.)
“Well, it’s like when they make pizza in India and top it with curry,” the teacher replied. “It’s good…but it’s not the real thing.” He bore his naturally sharp eyes into mine as his chin lifted to gesture: “GOTHCA!”
I mumbled something about the intention behind the practice mattering more than the movement, while silently judging him for being that “someone” who asked in the first place. Like keeping on shoes worn to wade through a pit of stagnant water, my thoughts wore the dank stench of our interaction for days.
Interactions like these remind me that the purpose of Yoga is not to envelop me in a special bubble that protects me from experiencing humanness.
Instead, it’s like a set of fingers keeping my eyes pried open so I can’t snap them shut, run away and pretend I’ve got all my shit figured out.
Yoga nudges me to face what’s unsavory in myself and others, so that right action can be mindfully taken (after, of course, I’ve self-righteously fumed and huffed like a spoiled dragon-child for at least 48 hours).
The gift of these moments (post-dragon-child tantrum) is the opportunity to confirm why this practice has come to mean so much to me. I’m often brought back here:
“The restraint […] of the mind-stuff is Yoga. Then the Seer will abide in Her own nature.”
-The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, I.2-3 (translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Mind-stuff. Mind-slush. Mind-YUCK. Sloshing around in a swamp of insecurities, selfishness, narrow-mindedness, anxiety, memories, self-pity, and pain makes me forget the part of me that’s above the surface: that’s calm, clear, compassionate and purely content (HUMANNESS!).
The physical practice of Yoga Asana is one tool that has helped me to schlep my way to the surface. The larger umbrella of Yoga–of self-study, of nonviolence, of surrender, of equanimity, of so much more–is the framework that’s helped me glimpse That which is greater; to not give into the self-serving dragon-child-swamp-monster that lurks around my head.
Unity in Diversity
“Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions. Then the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent.”
-The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, I.2-3 (translation by TKV Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga)
Does the marathoner not gain a full understanding–unity–with the Earth he’s treading? A weightlifter with the load she’s pressing? A surfer with the primordial vastness of the sea? A baker with the dough she’s kneading?
All movement–from the fluctuations of the mind to the way one navigates daily life–can be an opportunity to rise above our lower nature; to shed the layers that keep us from knowing something sweeter and sharing a higher part of ourselves with others.
What’s been canonized as Yoga Asana is not so perfect that it can’t learn from other disciplines (it happily already is). Democrats are not so perfectly upstanding that we can’t learn and grow from the perspective of someone who identifies with another side (say what?). And the list of how we can consider that we’re all on this human path together stretches out as far as we’re willing to see.
This year, I’ve been aiming to focus on the common threads that weave us all together (with some very obvious, cringe-worthy shortcomings–which I’ll muse about here). So today I’ll start all over again. Somewhere I know it’s possible for my heart to develop this little whisper toward all I meet, no matter are apparent differences: “Yes, I can tell that we are gonna be friends.”