My goal at the end of class is to have students leave their mats feeling better than when they first stepped foot on them. This is my contribution to a better world. Perhaps that sounds trite, but if you look at the levels of depression, anxiety, and unhappiness in society, I think it’s a small but important contribution to my community. I’m elated when students leave saying “Wow, I needed that!” or “I feel so much better now!” That’s the power of yoga. And I love to share that power.
Some think the power of yoga is in the poses (or asana). That’s one piece of it, but perhaps not in the way you think it works. But I like to start with asana, because for many, this is the entry point into yoga. It was for me. When I started yoga in 1998 I had no intention other than to stretch. I was a graduate student training for long running races and was completely lazy about stretching. I figured yoga would force me to stretch for 90 minutes a week – one class at a student rate was all I could afford back then – and that hopefully I might do some of the stretches at home on other days. I wasn’t ready for “Om” chanting or “feeling my inner butterfly” (I still don’t know what that means!) but I was willing to do the physical work. I wanted the physical work. I got hooked on vinyasa and fell in love with Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga (I still have those DVDs!). It took me a long time, years if I’m honest, to see that I loved the more physical classes not only because they required strength and I felt like I could get a good workout, but because they forced me to understand my body, my muscles, my range of motion; they forced me to find calm in the midst of challenge (equanimity); and, they connected my mind to my body in a fascinating way, I could feel when I was in alignment, or not, and I knew which muscles had to move to get me into a certain pose: I simply had a much more distinct and intimate awareness of my body. I found my way to “true” yoga – the uniting or yoking of mind, body, and breath – through asana. And today, being older and wiser (maybe!?), I’m able to find that same unity through Yin and other less physical forms of yoga. I’m also better at taking my yoga off the mat.
One more word about the power of yoga. Yoga has taken on an almost “cure-like” status in social media. While yoga is powerful, it’s not a cure, it’s a practice. What’s the difference? The former can be thought of as a pill you might take once and the problem is solved. If that were the case, it would be one yoga class and we’d be blissful forever. Yet…that’s not the case. Ever gone to a yoga class and at the end walked out feeling ever so blissful? Like you’ve been cured of whatever ailed you? And then 5 minutes later in traffic, or 2 minutes after entering your home filled with kids, or the moment your pet makes a mess, you’ve completely lost your bliss? And then you go back to yoga class that week or the next to re-find that bliss? A single class might help to balance you, providing that sensation of healing, but the effects are short lived if we forget the deeper lessons of yoga. Yoga must be a steady and consistent practice, not just on our mats, to fully reap its benefits. In class, it’s working on our own equanimity on the mat, so that we can maintain that same balance off of our mats. It is practicing breath, balance, mindfulness, and equanimity throughout the day, even if we’re not on a yoga mat. Yoga poses (& classes) are powerful because they help us to start the practice, to remember to practice, and to bolster our practice of equanimity.
I am not here to teach you how to be a “better yogi” (though you might improve your poses in class!). Instead, I am a guide for one part of your yoga journey – your time with me on your mat — and hopefully the lessons there carry with you off the mat, beyond the poses.
As my coffee mug says, “Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” Yoga helps us to find this peace, and gives us the tools to take that peace into our lives: that’s why I teach.