“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
“Can I do it?” you ask.
The answer is usually one of 4 things:
I don’t know.
The problem with asking “Can I?” is that it implies that there is a simple answer.
But a quest for personal growth & change can bring more questions than it does answers.
While “can I” can be an important thing to consider, there is another question that has given me more fulfillment in my practice. That question is:
“How can I?”
This shift in thinking comes straight out of my Iyengar Yoga learnings over the years.
It acknowledges I am looking toward change/growth.
It reminds me that I am not just “going for it” or “giving up.” I am seeking to improve.
The “can I” question makes things seem too pat. And they are not.
BKS Iyengar’s work illustrates that there is always a how.
In the how, we are encouraged to be curious and interested about our challenges. We are asked to challenge our judgements about what is possible. We can shift beyond judgement about what we can and cannot do. We get creative about what we might try now.
This kind of exploration leads to small steps toward what we are looking at. And any small step toward something put in front of us is one step closer than before.
Small steps add up to big changes.
Changes over time will lead to transformation.
This is precisely why I choose to study/practice Iyengar Yoga.
Yoga teaches us to go beyond the resignation of “I can’t.” Yoga moves us past “I can,” as we are asked to improve ourselves rather than maintain our status quo.
How can I grow at a pace that feels right for me at this time?
How can I work hard and let go of the outcome?
How can I keep moving forward when things seem to be at a standstill?
How can I keep from sliding backward into complacency?
How can I create more time to do the things I really want to do?
Creativity is required. The possibilities are endless.
I have found that these questions are a never-ending process that always takes me to a better place. Contemplating just one of these questions leaves me feeling stronger, positive, and more content.
I love that Iyengar Yoga practice moves me to a fresh perspective and a new part of life to explore
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.
And even if you can’t walk, you can do yoga.
I love this time of year because of all the holiday parties. My husband and I make the rounds to see friends and family, and an extended network of neighbors and acquaintances we’ve developed in our many years of living in Memphis.
There are some people that I see only at this time of year. It’s great to catch up and hear what people have been up to, and swap stories about the previous year.
Sometimes people want to talk about yoga.
There are several refrains that I commonly hear when I am out and about.
None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do yoga.
If you want to practice yoga, you will find a way.
You will try teacher after teacher until you find the one who is the right fit for you.
When people talk to me about yoga when we are just hanging out, I take that to mean that they are interested in it. Even when what they are saying is why they can’t do it.
If you have heard yourself (or a friend) saying any of the above, let’s talk.
Sometimes you have to overcome your “can’ts,” “nots,” and “never haves,” before you can find your “will, your “want to,” and your “must do.”
I’d love to help you find your way.
Her question made me chuckle — because unless you count eating an entire box of Thin Mints by myself in one sitting, I never even came close to becoming a Girl Scout!
But I was a G.A. The G.A.’s were our religious community’s version of the Girl Scouts. G.A. stands for “Girls in Action” — and a precisely accurate description of this busy girl (more about the ins & outs of G.A.’s another time).
The question concerning precision reminded me of my first Iyengar Yoga class – and my own teacher’s exacting instruction. I arrived at the classes ready to charge ahead and push through my limits.
But the classes stretched me in ways I had never considered. When I forged ahead in a frenzy from pose to pose, my teacher insisted that I stay at the pace she set for the class. I still hear her voice saying, “Leah, stay with us.”
I thought she was holding me back. But over time I learned that was not her intention at all. She was keeping me from getting ahead of myself.
Boy did this go against my grain!
Didn’t she know that I’m the one who put the whirling in the dervish? I had built a whole identity around earning gold stars by working fast and furious through school and beyond, wearing myself out, and moving on to the next thing.
With my teacher’s insistence and encouragement, I became open to trying a new way.
It eventually occured to me that my entire life I had met myself coming and going, but I had no idea how to stay with myself.
This realization had implications way beyond my yoga mat.
I knew how to set my sights on a goal. I’d start out with gusto — burning bright like a fiery comet. But I was always subject to the fizzle factor. I’d abandon myself at the first sign of trouble. Over-doing led to overwhelm led to over over-the-top anxiety levels, chronic stress-related illness and often some sort of burnout.
I had to learn how to pace myself so I could stay observant of my thoughts and actions. I had to learn how to listen to my body (still working on that one). I had to respect my limitations and uncover their hidden lessons.
The mention of the Girl Scouts piqued my curiousity, so I visited the Girl Scouts of America website.
Turns out that the Yoga Sutras are not that different in concept from the Girl Scouts’ values. Junior Girl Scouts even earn a special badge called “Practice With Purpose.” The award is earned by “setting a goal, increasing endurance, building strength, and practice, practice practice!”
The Girl Scout Promise is worth reading, and below are a few highlights from it.
I will “do my best to stay courageous and strong…and to take responsibility for what I say and do…to respect myself and others and to use my resources wisely.”
My time, attention and energy are among my most valued resources. Practicing yoga at a pace that allows for discipline, critical thinking and understanding is one of the many ways I stay with myself.
It isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s almost never easy – most things that contribute to our positive change aren’t.
The excitement of reaching for the stars might get me going. But it’s yoga’s exploration of inner space that keeps me moving toward true and lasting transformation.