Three and a half years ago when I started my teacher training at Kripalu, the first discussion point was a fill-in-the-blank: “Yoga is….?” The textbook answer is that yoga means “union” or “yoked.” But the point was – and is – that yoga means a million different things.
I am back in this home of sorts. Tonight, in a class with a septugenarian on one side of me and a woman who just couldn’t get comfortable on the other, I thought of how yoga has been my church for more than 20 years. I was about 26 when I started going to a little Iyengar studio on Capitol Hill in Seattle to help with my back. I was at the height of Microsoft commuting and computer sitting; of course my back hurt! Around the same time, I joined a Buddhist study and meditation group for my spirit. I was in my mid-twenties, without a clear path; of course my soul was restless. And I was in the thick of psycho therapy – for my mind, right? Which, of course, was really the same as my soul. And all of it was connected to my body in ways I didn’t yet understand.
It all helped, but only yoga has remained my constant. It got me out of my head and into my body. And perhaps even more than writing, it’s been a lifelong opportunity for practice. Every day I am on my mat whether in movement or in stillness.
Like any decent practice – to the page, to a god, to a relationship – it forces me to deal with the tough stuff, the “hard shit,” as one of our Kripalu teachers so eloquently put it.
It shouldn’t have been surprising then that returning to Kripalu wasn’t all easy. The stuff burbled and gurgled up. “Nooooo!” part of me yelled. “I’m here to have fun, I’m here for joy, I’m here to relax.” And then I remembered all of the times in the month of my teacher training that were spent in tears (“I’m going home!”) or out in the lake screaming. Indeed, this place is filled with good food, natural beauty, sweet people — but you’d better be prepared to show up.
Showing up is what yoga has helped me do in life.
Yoga kept me strong and flexible through two pregnancies. It was the safety zone during my dad’s illness and my divorce. It’s been the sure thing during depression and anxiety. Last winter, when my back hurt so much, it was the thing that I did not want to give up but that helped me to give it up. (It’s like the cute love interest in the movie who convinces the girl that she shouldn’t be with him any more – at least not for now; he’s that good.)
There was a young woman in my class last week who was clearly not at all sold on yoga. It was her first-ever yoga class – a friend had brought her – and she had a lot of questions and thinly disguised tolerance for certain yogic ways. Afterward, when I asked how she’d found the class, she arched an eyebrow; “I haven’t been that uncomfortable in a long time.”
I can’t blame her for the distrust. Yoga has been sold as the great tonic, the beautifying, slimming, energizing cure all. It’s not. But any worthwhile church is going to demand that you show up, bow deeply to your shit, and then dedicate yourself to loving it.