“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to describe yoga. Especially to new people who are asking questions about yoga. What is yoga? Will it help me lose weight? What do you do in a class? Why do you spend so much time teaching/studying/practicing?
When I first started thinking about how to describe yoga to people, my purpose was to come up with ways to “market” yoga and Iyengar Yoga. I wanted to help people find us, come to class, and introduce them to our practice.
I think about marketing sometimes. As a studio we depend on having students. Without students, there is no studio. And it is no secret that the practicalities of paying the rent, keeping the lights on, utilities and so forth are important considerations.
It is in the “marketing” of yoga where I get stuck. It’s hard to describe Iyengar Yoga to those who have not experienced it for themselves.
Of course, I could quote the benefits of yoga:
heal from injuries & chronic conditions.
I can cite articles with the scientific research backed by statistics on percentages of people who have achieved relief from pain and calmed their anxiety.
The usual attention-grabbing advertising words do not work here.
But there are benefits other than the surface ones. These are hard to describe.
Common advertising language has no words to describe yoga practice. Sure, the physical benefits attract people, but those who continue to practice over a period of months and years do so because the yoga gives them more than a healthy body.
Those who stick with it find something deeper. I could say “rich, deep, and profound.”
Even these descriptions fall far short of describing what yoga brings. Yoga is the ability to quiet the mind. It helps us provide a deeper experience of who we are — and we turn inward.
After 20 years of practice, I am just now starting to crave a deeper connection to myself…
Wanting to shift my attention inward. Wanting to focus less on the externals.
I have not always been interested in this.
It can be scary to go to an unfamiliar place. And spending time with myself and my ever-wandering mind has never souned appealing.
What will I find there? Maybe nothing. Maybe something I’d rather not see. Or maybe I can catch a glimpse of a new, less external (what am i wearing? how can I be fit?) way of living.
Inner connection has never been on my to-do list. Until now. And I can see that is a process — it comes in stages.
My first stage toward change has been to wish I wanted to.
And in the case of big changes, I am only capable of being willing to want to change.
These stages can last a very very long time before any real work happens.
I find myself in the middle of it now. Maybe you do too.
It helps to hear what others have to say on the subject.
Here’s what John O’Donohue, the Irish poet/philosopher says:
“The body is your only home in the universe. It is your house of belonging here in the world. It is a very sacred temple. To spend time in silence before the mystery of your body brings you toward wisdom and holiness.” – O’Donohue
“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” – Iyengar
My recent shopping trip took me on an unexpected turn toward the existential.
It’s not every day one sees luck and faith available for purchase — and with faith on clearance.
The iphone in my pocket begged to take a picture. I would have loved sending it to Instagram (or Facebook or Twitter). And the right hashtag (#Targetfunny or #faithluckonsale) to underscore the experience.
But there were errands to run, and I thought maybe I’d circle back to the idea later on.
And just like any yoga nerd, I felt it lingering in the back of my mind.
Why couldn’t I just be contented with having a good laugh about it with my husband?
Because I have to create meaning out of the mundane, and often where this is none. That’s just how I roll.
Still, who wouldn’t be captivated?
I found the holy grail of a happy life – in the aisles of the East Memphis Target!
Clearly some sales executive higher-up deemed luck to be a little more valuable than faith. The powers-that-be slashed a few prices — and voila — the value of faith declined by 50%.
I knew the Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras had something to say about this and wondered if he’d also thrown in any ideas about luck.
So I looked it up.
I found some talk of faith. And very little on luck.
The word “faith” can be a loaded word for many. It can be seen as something religious or spiritual or even out-dated. It brings up early childhood experiences in incense-filled cathedrals and Jesus’ “faith of a mustard seed” speech.
Substituting the word “trust” has been a good alternative for me.
Trust can be something like a seed that develops little by little. BKS Iyengar says that trust comes with experience. He describes faith as “felt trust” and says that it is instinctive. And then develops with effort and reflecting on one’s own experience.
There have been times when I’ve found it hard to have trust or faith — even in my yoga practice.
But I still do it. (Yes, and sometimes even just think about doing it).
I see results. I understand faith through my experience. Over time, I am able to believe that yoga can be of help. And that makes faith worth something to me.
As for luck, I’ve seen a lot of it. I’ve been at the right place at just the right time too often to doubt my good luck.
Luck can provide valuable resources. But I’ve found that, unlike faith or trust, there are very few actions I can take to create more luck.
Except maybe shop at Target, and be willing to pay full price.
With shopping, wrapping, socializing, cooking, and baking, our yoga practice can fall by the wayside.
We begin to feel like there isn’t time or we’re too exhausted for even a little yoga practice.
Our minds slow down and we focus on what is important.
Our bodies become filled with energy and ease.
We can rest in ourselves and connect to our world in a way that feels calm and alert.
All that needs to be done, gets finished.
We feel joyful and we are actually able to enjoy the season.
Doing just a little yoga can ease feelings of anxiety about the holidays by bringing us home to our truest self. This is the place where we find comfort, happiness and peace.
Here it is, direct from the yoga sutras:
Now is the time for practice!
Urdvha Prasarita Padasana: Legs up the wall
Ardha Uttanasana: Half forward bend with hands on the wall.
Bharadvajasana (sitting in chair): Simple Twist
Gomukasana (arms only): shoulder stretch with or without a strap. any simple shoulder stretch will do. interlacing hands behind your back and stretching arms
Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward Facing Dog Pose
Supta Baddha Konasana: Reclining Bound Angle Pose
When you take time for yourself, you will have more time for others.
Make this holiday a happy one.
Treat your self this season, and join me for one (or more) of the holiday classes.
I’ve been teaching these 2 poses in most of my classes lately — and assigning them as homework. With so many of you interested in home practice, this post will help you get started.
Advanced Iyengar teacher Lois Steinberg gave me the idea, and I wanted to test it out.
This sequence is short & sweet — but don’t let that fool you! The affects can be mighty: you will stretch your legs, strengthen your quads, release your lower back, lengthen the sides of your trunk, open your shoulders, and spread your hands.
And the mental benefit — well, you’ll just have to try it now, won’t you? Let me know!
Lie down on your side with both buttocks on the wall.
Roll over and swing your legs up the wall.
Make sure your legs are centered in line with your trunk and head.
Straighten your legs while keeping your buttocks down on the floor.
Move your buttocks away from the wall if needed to get your legs straight.
When you come to class, you will learn more ways to customize the poses to fit your body’s needs.
You should be able to relax before you begin the actions of the pose.
Now do it again!
And onto the next pose!
Build strength by staying 30 seconds at first.
Work up to 1 minute.
Repeat 2-3 times.
Step your feet wider apart.
Place your hands higher on the wall.
Do this sequence every day and see what happens. You can do just this 2-pose sequence on its own. Or…do these 2 poses in preparation for a longer practice and see how you feel.
Planning to do some yoga can take up so much time, there’s no time do actually do the yoga.Maybe it’s pathological — some form of procrastination or resistance, but that’s a story for another day.
3 tips to overcome overthinking & get going:
1. Unroll your yoga mat.
2. Get on it.
3. Do a pose.
How’s that for simple?
Most of the time I put my mat down at the front door. It’s the most un-cluttered spot in the house.
Here’s a list of what NOT to do before you practice:
Do not try to organize your yoga space.
Do not make a list of all the poses you are terrible at, and plan to do those.
Do not call anyone (including a long-winded friend, your mother or customer service.)
Do not weigh yourself.
Do not thumb through your ipod looking for the perfect playlist.
Do not worry that you won’t do the pose like we did it in class.
Do not think that you have to do this perfectly.
Yoga In Action:Preliminary Course by Geeta Iyengar (pictured right): a great resource for yoga at home. Available at EYC.
Stay tuned for details about my special upcoming 3-class series on practicing on your own!