Monday, July 18, 2011


My legs are wrapped into lotus. Hands resting on knees. Head bowed a bit—in the act of engaging Jalandhara bandha (or pretending to). Ears listening.

Mind disengaged as it processes the words floating from the bendy body on the mat in front, . . . as we are all connected, each body aiming at the same direction, ending in the same place. Each of us treading on the soil as one. And appreciating the radiant joy to be . . .

Mind thinking, Do you actually believe that mystical bullsh*t?

And wondering, Or is there some yoga teacher handbook full of mandatory "wisdom" that all you instructional yogis and yoginis toss at your students so they'll hold the pose longer, encouraging them to believe that if they do they will see clearly what's Right with them and shoot that Goodness at every person they are privileged to come in contact with? Puh-leeze. Give it a rest, get on with it, and tell me to "take a vinyasa," already.

Not very yogic of me.

Don't misunderstand me—the bounty of psychological and, truly, spiritual benefits I count on receiving from my yoga practice is ample and has become a necessity. When I haven't been practicing for a while, I get snippy(er), a little mean(er), and acquire a taste for being grumpy(er).

The breathing techniques I've learned are handy in all sorts of situations. And above all, my yoga practice has helped me to observe the body that I inhabit and dislike so much in a way that causes me to appreciate the incredible things it can do and the progress it's made, developing a bit of respect where before there was none.

Also, there is a concept in yoga called Prana that I've actually felt. Prana's essence is defined as a life-force, an energy that belongs to the universe. For me I experience Prana as a coursing energy dashing through my veins after an especially taxing practice. I lay in Savasana, my least favorite pose (followed closely by Reverse Triangle), and survey the pricks of energy I earned during my practice.

That's my Prana—a feeling unique to my post-practice relaxation. My Prana is only a shade of the Hindu concept, but using the term Prana to indicate that particular rush of force is how I choose to identify the singular feeling. I believe that my practice exists even when I'm not on my mat, and my job in taking full advantage of those hours on my mat is to access my notion of Prana and utilize its benefits.

I make my yoga work for me. But while I do it, I sometimes have the trial of enduring trite expressions of unity and blind love floating from the mouths of women using their lyrical, practiced yoga voices of longer vowels and deeper tones. This turns my practice into an exercise in patience while I endure the droning about oneness and letting go of the past. At times like that I yen to walk out and leave the lame western abridgments of Hindu philosophy for those who intentionally practice that kind of yoga. But I don't leave, for even if I'm perturbed by the teacher's words, I don't disrespect her enough to make a ruckus and jet.

The teachers I take from regularly aren't like that. They see the benefits of the practice on the physical and mental selves, but they don't spend our time together preaching. Rather, they teach that breath is a tool that can calm, fill, and nurture our bodies. They teach how to harness that tool and apply it to the asanas (postures/poses) for greater depth and strength within each movement. No dogma. Just down-dog.

However, when the class and the teacher bow at the end of each practice, hands in prayer, and we say Namaste, I am feeling and buying what I'm saying. I mean it. The divine in me recognizes and honors the divine in you.

And it does.


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