It's been just under a year since I've published a blog post, though I've of course been hoarding a dozen drafts I hate. I started this one over two years ago. I still feel fearful about publishing something about yoga. There's so much fluff out there about something that's the opposite of fluffy. Also, I don't want to seem like I'm trying to assume an identity of yogi that involves egregious affectations or appropriations. To want to wear yoga like it's an adornment to my person is also the antithesis of yoga. I am simply a person who practices yoga, who respects the myriad versions of its teachings and tries to deepen my sitting meditation and asana (movement practice) each day. And unless you know me well, you don't know that about me. So it’s starting to feel even more disingenuous to NOT write about it. To blog about my health, and to not have a word on my blog about my yoga practice. Because yoga has transformed me, and will continue to transform me. And now more than ever, it feels nearly impossible to imagine my life without it.
The two most important choices I've made for my health are to quit drinking and to practice yoga. I can say that without question.
It's hard to pinpoint each and every factor that has helped me to get where I am now: in the best health of my life. (And by best health, I really mean, most ready and able to be present). There were no controls or isolated variables in my experiments on living better. More of a flow (sometimes a frenzy) of trial and error. I've finally arrived at a combination of habits that work for me. For now, that is. I fully expect to have to reformulate this combo in the future. Because our bodies and minds and environment are ever-changing, honest reflection and reevaluation are essential life practices.
So how do I know these two were the most impactful? Because both the immediate and long-term effects have been so tangibly and powerfully felt, they are undeniable.
So anyway I was all like, "Hello yoga! Sorry I'm hella late. And hungover." You see, I moved to California in 2002, and I made a serious commitment to yoga just four years ago. So I'm about 15 years late. Or a few thousand, depending on how you look at it. Which, should be convincing enough, right? The fact that folks discovered, developed, and fine tuned this way to take care of your body, mind, and spirit- as well as to take care of others- over such a long ass time. Why would that not be reason enough to try it, you may ask? Well, I did try it. I was a dabbler, ok? Who among us doesn't have some commitment issues? I was (am) stubborn. I mean, it just doesn't HURT in the precise ways that exercising should, right? I mistakenly thought I heard Midwestern working class ancestral voices inside me grumbling that it was froo froo and self-indulgent. In fact it was just my own self-shaming.
If you feel like I felt, you might want to just drop that baggage at the door. Or don't. Suit yourself. You can keep carrying it around for awhile, if that's your jam. Because it's your journey. If and when the time is right, you'll arrive at the answer that YOGA IS THE ANSWER SO JUST DO IT NOW. Truly, though, there are lots of grunty and sometimes even hurty things that are great for you that you can still do. But can I submit that you may want to do them in addition to, and not instead of, yoga? And if you only have time for one thing or money for one class, pick yoga. Or don't. Yet. Truly. I'm honestly learning not to regret the years I spent not doing yoga. They brought me here at just the right time. (New age-y as shit, I know. But I'm AWARE of it. So it's fine?)
There is not a single aspect of my life that yoga hasn't improved. My sleep, my relationships, my strength, my self esteem, my eating. These are of course longish-term effects. The immediate effects that I noticed at each and every class were also undeniable. There's simply nothing else that addresses your strength, flexibility, agility, balance, breathing, and stamina, all while including meditation and mindful embodiment and soul alignment and contemplations on life. All happening on the mat and extending beyond it.
Speaking of the mat, I love it. I love its singularity. It is autonomy, immersed in a community. I love that I just have to show up on the mat. That's a thing that I've heard one of my teachers say. To just show up on the mat. And stay on the mat. I like that I don't have to figure out a workout and push myself through it alone. It's about being in a community of others- in the room, and in the world. It's about finding your edges, while still reserving some energy. I show up, I'm encouraged to drop in. I'm guided through. Even while it is an internal journey, it is about being present and aware in the physical space. That sounds like how all of life is, you say. Yeah. You'll find that yoga is like that, again and again. In that a lot of the things you might say to try to sum it up, mirror things you might say to try to sum up the whole experience of life. I'm getting too philosophical again and losing your attention. Anyway, mats are cool. Good cushioning for your joints. You don't really even need a mat, though. You can be old school and use a rug.
For over ten years, I lifted weights and got on a treadmill at a pricey shiny gym down the street. Now I practice at a pricier unshiny yoga studio down the street. The difference is, at that fancy gym, I was paying to tune out and climb in a hamster wheel machine all alone in a room full of people who never saw each other. High tech hookups connected that machine to the handheld machine I brought with me. We listened to music or podcasts, watched TV or even played video games, while our bodies went through motions that were so thoughtlessly repetitive that we could focus on our distractions- focus on not focusing- without falling out of step even once.
Yoga has taught me to do the opposite. I'm learning to pay attention to how my body is feeling while I am practicing. So that the benefits- and difficulties- that I reap are experienced during practice, not just afterwards. So that my mind becomes accustomed to turning toward the sensation and challenge of something, not away from it. So that in my life outside of the yoga studio, or "off the mat", I am not reaching for distraction so often. Not checking out. As much. I'm learning to turn more toward life than escape from it. To experience all of the pleasure and the pain and the in between that it has to offer. The practice of yoga, in that way, has addressed my skin picking struggles, and drinking struggles, and all my human struggles, by guiding me to be present with feelings of discomfort. To accept them, and all thoughts and feelings, as normal and temporary waves of the human experience. Sensations to be aware of, to be present for, and to ride through, just like happiness and comfort.
All of these effects of yoga that I just listed, though? Now forget them. Not because self improvement is not a worthy goal. But because overall, to experience improvements is not the main reason to practice yoga. The main reason, I think, is to experience the practicing. And, on challenging days, we may be just crushed by life, and we can't capitalize on any improvements we believe we'd made anyway. Especially physical ones. And we'll maybe get injured. And we'll for sure get older. And still then- especially then- we'll practice.
Yoga really is, quite simply, the process of learning how to focus, and how to smile at ourselves when we get distracted, and then refocus. That skill of paying attention is something that grows and builds each day. Except for some days, we when we are at day one again, because we have circled back, AS WE SHOULD. Like we do with all of the most important life skills. We learn them and forget and remember and soar and fall and observe it all with greater forgiveness towards ourselves and others. There aren't clear start and finish lines.
I guess what I'm saying is, if you were categorizing life skills by what the process of learning them resembles, you'd maybe groupYoga (aka Learning to Focus) with Grieving Compassionately, or Embracing Vulnerability or Not Worrying So Much About How You Look. Not with with Riding a Bike or Cutting An Onion or Building A Rocketship. It's more of a spiral than a linear progression.
So if you are thinking of hopping on this spiral with me, now seems like as good a time as any. The place where you begin is every place. It's precisely where you are at- especially now.
is a health-seeker and health educator living in the US in San Francisco, California. She is also a former (and maybe future) high school English teacher, and she loves words. Maybe health seeker looks better with a hyphen, or maybe it doesn't. You should just get over it. Even if she cannot.