Yoga videos. They are everywhere.
Sped up, slowed down, jazzed up, stripped bare, Hollywood glamorous, or iPhone masterpieces that capture the building up to, or getting right to the heart of, that one elusive shape that justifies why we call Yoga a “practice.”
Yes, that one holy grail of a pose that makes Yoga skeptics, pooh-pooh-ers and naysayers affirm to themselves once and for all that placing one’s feet on top of one’s head (regardless of which direction they may be coming in from for landing) does not make world peace any more attainable, rent any cheaper, or credit card debts any lower. As someone very near and dear to me once said, “the world would be a much better place if people stopped twisting themselves into pretzels!”
For the record, this person is now one of the greatest Yoga enthusiasts I know, and can frequently be found taking in an upside down view of the world…in a headstand.
But for the sake of generalizing here, don’t worry. I’d be the first to gently offer up thoughts from the other side of the coin:
No matter whether you are putting your feet on your head, standing upside down on your hands, backbending yourself into a rainbow, sitting quietly cross-legged, or lying motionless on the floor in savasana, Yoga has the ability to deepen who you are if you let it. It has the power to shine a light on the qualities in yourself that you have buried away because, somewhere along the line, you lost faith in their capacity to flourish, whether through your own self-judgement or the criticisms of others. Yoga has a different impact on each and every life it touches. Some are unchanged by the practice because they forget or deny to take on the part where ‘the practice’ moves into the world beyond the short rubber runway beneath your feet. Others are transformed in the most positive ways, and for good — softened where they were hardened, opened where they were closed, inspired where they were once searching for their spark…
I took my first Yoga class at 17. It was one of the most physically challenging things I had ever done…but amidst the awkward downward dogs, something clicked.
I had recently graduated from high school where I had been turned off from anything related to using my body, unless it was acting in Drama classes or the school musicals. Even there, I was self-conscious to a point. In Musical Theatre, I yearned to dance as confidently and with as much grace and coordination as those who probably spent time every day in a dance studio. Oftentimes, it took me twice as long as the other kids to gain my footing with the choreography…
And then there was Gym class.
It’s sad to think that my primary recollections of Physical Education (the time where I should’ve been thrilled to get to know my body) involve the humiliation of having to wear a bathing suit in the presence of unforgiving teenaged boys, being left to partner up with the teacher in tennis lessons (I was, admittedly, HORRID at tennis), and praying that I wouldn’t end up having to Cha-Cha with the meanest (and most popular) boy on the rugby team in Social Dance. Yes, even Social Dance — the part that was supposed to be more creative, fun, expressive… more like Musical Theatre! — became an object of dread. Sure, I wanted to be able to dance like all the dancers in the school musical, but this was the last place I could envision myself finding my inner Gene Kelly, let alone cultivating a single shred of self-esteem.
In short, I hated Gym.
Wait, I re-phrase. Perhaps I would’ve been tolerant of Gym if I didn’t have any reason to be afraid of it. Each sport, each subject area, felt like another opportunity for me to suck at something, and risk being made fun of for it. And even more tragic, it wasn’t just me who felt this way. There were other girls who had all the same reasons to be anxious of being in command of their bodies too.
THANK. GOODNESS. My saving grace.
As awkward as that first class was, something kept me going back. I’ve heard it said that you choose all the players in your life’s story, and I must confess, my choice in a very first Yoga teacher set the tone for a wonderful journey. With her steady, reassuring presence, I had found a place where, no matter how ‘bad’ I was, no matter how much of a confused novice, I still felt accepted. There was no judgement. In fact, better yet, I felt nurtured, and encouraged to continue. It was a refreshing contrast to the old high school feeling of wanting to curl up in a ball and be visible to no one. I could be me, and I could be in my body, no matter what that looked like…and (hallelujah!) that was more than OK.
As I grew more familiar with the sequences and postures, simple sun salutations began to feel like dancing. *Gasp!* I was dancing! When I moved and breathed, I felt graceful. More than that, I felt…beautiful, and strong. It was something I could never have said about myself in a decade of Social Dances. Maybe my body wasn’t open, flexible or strong enough to do all the fancy postures (to this day, there are many postures that remain untouched, barely explored or just highly modified) but I felt ease, and peace. I felt that I could grow more fond of my body because it was doing something that made me feel deeply content inside.
To this day, I see my yoga practice as a form of expression, my dance, with as much to share in stillness as in movement.
Life will be what it will be, but the simple act of sweeping my arms up over head as I inhale, lifting my gaze upward, and then falling, floating forward as I exhale to fold over my legs, touch my toes, a soft smile on my lips… At last, this sense of peace.
I don’t need to be a dancer in this lifetime, but let me have THIS dance.
When I found this video featuring Elena Brower moving through a short, simple sequence in front of a video installation at the MoMA, it took my breath away. Yes, this 5-minute Yoga video on the internet highlighted part of what I see to be the beauty of the practice of Yoga: simplicity, ease, quiet strength, connectedness…the breath, body, mind, heart, spirit, all united in the moment. This is as magical to experience from the inside as it is to witness, something so vibrant, alive and passionate it blows the locks off the doors of your heart; the courageous act of using a vocabulary of movement and shapes to create a story with our one unique body, our own unique breath.
A dance…a deep surrendering to the dance.