While recently enjoying a social gathering, I was warmed to notice how many of those present at the party had been students in my yoga classes. Having taught in the same geographical area for over 40 years, I have met thousands of people through the practice of yoga. Several folks reminisced with me about their first real yoga experience, and how memorable that feeling was for them. People light up when they talk about discovering yoga. It seems to be a marker in the mind, an awakening, like remembering the sweetness of a first kiss, or the birth of a child. After yoga, everything has somehow taken a shift. But for some, the shift doesn’t stick. Scads of people take yoga out for a whirl, but few make it a lifetime engagement.
I wondered about that. When most people come to yoga, they feel a deep connection with the experience. They realize benefits almost immediately, “feel better fast,” feel empowered– and then quit! I know things change. People’s lives take different turns, and sometimes a weekly yoga class is not possible, or even a priority. Because my own relationship with yoga has been a constant for nearly five decades (and I know I am lost without it), I am fascinated by the fact that people can have a very casual relationship with yoga. Many years ago, during the rise of the aerobics craze, it came as a great shock to me that “yoga is not for everyone!” I realized then, that some people have golf on Mondays, bridge on Tuesdays, and yoga on Wednesdays, swimming on Thursdays, and that’s about the extent of it. In other words, some have a deep yearning that yoga satisfies, and others do not. I get that– sort of.
Or is there more to it than that? Perhaps yoga alters us in a way that is simply too unfamiliar, nice as it is. Perhaps we’d rather just slip back into the old thought and behavior habits, for the sake of familiarity. It is a bit scary to take a look at oneself, either in the mirror, or in the mirror of one’s mind. My husband, Field, once told me that an acquaintance of his asserted that he wouldn’t be interested in yoga because “it makes you feel.” What we find particularly threatening about yoga is that, in a way, it leaves us open to the world. It unravels our defenses. One former student, from a major U.S. city, explained that yoga made her feel “too relaxed,” and that vulnerability is not an attribute that bodes well in her urban environment. We may fear losing our edge. Or, perhaps we fear that if we change too much, we’ll lose our bearings, or our friends–we won’t recognize ourselves. Maybe it’s too much work to deconstruct oneself. “That’s just the way I am,” after all, has a real sense of solidity about it. Perhaps, if we begin to melt our well-constructed armor, there will be nothing left. Self-exposure, even in the privacy of your own mind, can be very unsettling.
So, my question, for myself and for all of you, is “How good are you willing to feel?” Am I willing to feel, and explore, my own restrictions and edges? Am I willing to dissolve the limits of my mind, and explore those, too? Am I willing to take a good poke around my behaviors and habits of conduct? Am I willing to question why I am the way I am? Am I willing to peel back the ties and binds of thought that have me bound to events in my past? How invested am I in holding myself back? What do I get out of it? Would I rather be happy, or right? Why am I not willing to step into my own greatness?
It is almost guaranteed that yoga will reveal yourself to your Self. How fascinating! And, the really intriguing thing is that by merely noticing, a shift takes place. Then you are left with a choice. Do I peel the onion, and let fall away the restrictive layers of my self, that I, myself, have constructed,? Or do I cling to my familiar, comfortable ways, and move on, as if no portal of perception had been laid open. Whatever the outcome, very few can claim, “nothing happened.” Otherwise, they wouldn’t have that look in their eyes when they talk about their first real yoga experience.