Let’s face it. Young women who are getting into yoga for the first time mostly do it because Jennifer Aniston does it.
And who could blame them? Homegirl looks phenomenal.
|I’ll show you a chatarunga, baby.
But to be fair, a lot of that has to do with good genes, a personal trainer, and a diet of sushi and rice cakes. Not that there’s anything wrong with rice cakes. I pop that shit like candy. Rice cake candy.
I work at the desk at a yoga studio, which gives me the chance to do all of the yoga I want for free. Granted, I also do podcasts at home, but being in the actual studio makes me so happy. Anyway, the new yogis/yoginis who come in have lots of questions as to what kind of classes are most beneficial to something or other going on with their lives or bodies, but I remember very clearly that one girl was dead set on losing weight and getting toned. I asked, in my brightest, most zen tone, “So what brings you to yoga?” She said, “I want to lose 20 pounds.”
A lot of people get scared of yoga because of the poses, or they get weirded out because of the chanting. They just want to get their asses kicked so they can fit into those skinny jeans. Which, you know what? If that brings you repeatedly to the mat, all the power to you and namaste. But you’ll find eventually that as rockin’ of a booty you can get from yoga (and I would know…because my mother has commented on my butt lately), there are benefits that go far above and beyond the ephemeral. As Dave Farmar says in one of his podcasts, “When you get older you may not fit into your pants, but can you fit into your skin?”
So without further ado, I present to you the 5 things yoga has given me aside from an ass you can balance a Shock Top on. Not that I’ve tried that or anything.
Also, the only way I would ever attain the ‘yoga body’ that everyone in Hollywood has is if I were to go back to a diet of high-fiber 90 calorie wraps and zero-calorie marshmallow dip. Gross, gross, GROSS.
|what’s a carbohydrate? and why am I so tired?|
1. An End, or A Way To Manage, Anxiety.
In the months leading up to my return to the mat, I was a selfish bitch. And that’s putting it mildly. I was suffering from anxiety to an extreme degree, so stressed out and so panicked and so afraid, and it completely informed every other aspect of my life to the point where I could barely function. When I got back into yoga it was at the request of my best friend who basically said to me “You need this. Now.” Sitting still, for 75 minutes? Are you kidding me? I resisted for a month but I finally went and the rest is history. When I don’t do yoga more than twice a week I can seriously tell because I become anxious and distracted. If you can hold half-moon in 100 degree heat with sweat coming out of your eyeballs, you can handle writing out your tax claims. Not that I’m never anxious…I get anxious all the time! But I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in about a year thanks to yoga. I go to the mat for the mental health. The physical health I now enjoy was a pleasant surprise, but the mental happiness I have now is the reason I keep going back to my practice. One of my craziest yoga instructors who seems to like torturing me (kidding…ish) usually starts her hardest classes by saying ‘This is just breath and movement. That’s all you have to do. Just breathe and move, and you’ll be fine.” Cut to me an hour later, shaking and sweaty, cursing out another chatarunga…and laughing my ass off.
Yoga tells you to treat everyone, no matter what, with at least a modicum of compassion and non-attachment, or vairagya. Basically it means exactly what it says: Don’t let outward or material things control you or your emotions, because your soul is not in those things. Of course, this doesn’t always work, particularly if you’re a bitchy customer at my restaurant or you’re Michele Bachmann’s existence, but I try to make it so that everyone I interact with starts out with a clean slate. Then, whatever happens, it’s because of the energy they’ve brought into the situation. Yoga teaches you to be okay with being uncomfortable, and to breathe through that feeling. When someone banged into my cart at the grocery store a few weeks ago and proceeded to ream me out in front of the entire meat department, I felt for a minute like the world was collapsing down around me. Even though I had asked her quite politely to excuse me while I tried to work my cart around hers and she didn’t listen, I still felt like it was entirely my fault. I went over to the egg section to calm down (and to wallow in the selections of turkey bacon…) I felt like the smallest little speck in the universe. Until I realized that her perception of the situation was just that…her perception. It wasn’t my perception or perspective. Perhaps she had had a bad day. Perhaps she had gotten some terrible news, and didn’t know how to compartmentalize when interacting with others. When I realized that, my anger and sadness went away and I felt better about the situation. Non-attachement is not an invitation to become an emotion-less zombie…yoga is also about living life with joy. But it’s an invitation to live more simply, physically and emotionally.
|if I wear a dress made of meat but don’t eat it, is that still ahimsa?|
3. The Ability to Let Go.
Sometimes we have people or situations in our lives that seem to exist on a vicious cycle of self-flagellation and loathing. They exist for the sole purpose to make us miserable or crazy, or both. These people/situations, called ‘suckers’, sap us of our energy and happiness until we can’t function. At the beginning of every yoga class, my teachers start out by telling us to ‘come back into yourself.’ When you breathe, and let go of the day, your body instantly relaxes. Then there are poses specifically designed to get you into that higher frame of ‘letting-go’ mindset. Those poses, especially the ones that open your throat or heart, can release a lot of emotions that are seated way down deep inside of you. For me personally, camel makes me bawl like an idiot because it releases both my back and throat, both extreme seats of emotion and anxiety for me. When I breathe into those spaces and shine them open, watch out: the floodgates crash open. Dave Farmar says heart openers are ‘freaky things’ and he’s right. They just pull your emotions out of you. That freedom can terrify some people, and make them extremely sensitive. But it is paramount if you want to let go of baggage and feel lighter. When that happens, you can feel your body start to let go of the people, situations, or things that are controlling you. If you try to fight that, or try to fight the yoga, it will beat you into the ground. The best thing is to let go. Your practice will blossom if you just let go and trust it and yourself.
Sometimes my teachers will reference ‘Shiva’s fire.’ Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, purifies you with flame. When you go through crazy situations, you emerge stronger, and all that stuff. As well as the emotions to let go, yoga also provides you with a hell of a lot of bravery. If you had told me a few years ago that I would routinely stand on my head as a way to chill out at the end of a day, I would have slapped you across the face. I was always highly jealous of one of my friends’ ability to stand on her head in yoga headstand, and despite copious efforts on her part to get me into it, I’d always chicken out. Until yoga classes. My teachers often extol the virtues of barging in head-on, to not think and just do, especially when it comes to the so-called ‘scary’ postures such as wheel, headstand, handstand, side crow, scissors, or hurdler. Handstand is one of those really terrifying postures for me, but I allowed my teacher to spot me into the pose back in November and it changed my life. The feeling of hanging suspended in the air, supported by just your hands, was a high I had never thought I would get to experience due to my overwhelming fear. Since then, I’ve tried to be much braver not only on the mat but in my life. My effusiveness has increased tenfold, and while I’m not sure I can blame yoga or coffee for that, it’s coming from somewhere! I know for a fact that whenever I complete a chatarunga, I’m not thinking “My biceps are gonna rock after this.” I think “Man, I can’t believe I used to think I was weak. My body is an amazing machine.”
Say there’s one day where everything fell on your head. Absolutely nothing about your practice is graceful, and some of the inversions are giving you the spins just to think about them, or handstand prep butt-kicks (if you’re a yoga student you’ll understand what that weird sentence means) are giving you heart palpitations. Say one more chatarunga is going to make you start dropping F-bombs instead of ujayi breath. Say if you do one more round of skull-polishing breath, you’ll pass out. Say engaging the bandhas makes you want to kill everyone in the class and yourself. Say the thought of full split makes you hyperventilate.
Guess what? Don’t do them.
If you start thinking about what it will take for your body to get into those asanas or pranayamas you’ll never do them. But you aren’t a bad person, or a bad yogini, if you don’t do them. Sometimes in life, saying ‘no’ is just as precious as saying ‘yes.’
Sometimes to ‘do’ yoga is not to do yoga at all. Back in March I was suffering from a hamstring injury and pulled out of my practice for two weeks. I was going insane. My neuroses were back in full effect, I ate way too much chocolate, and my impatience skyrocketed.
I have unreal Type-A personality when I want to. When I first started doing yoga, I tried to do everything the teachers threw at me, which is probably a nice way to get yourself used to the kind of poses Power classes generally do on a regular basis. But there are some poses that a newbie yogini are simply not going to be able to do, and when I couldn’t do them I’d get pissed or start crying. True story: One time I was doing a podcast and got so upset I nearly cancelled lunch plans with a boy. What the hell? My practice was shit because I wasn’t breathing, taking breaks when I needed to, and my body was exhausted. I wasn’t saying ‘no’. So I started to, and my practice has gotten nearly a total face-lift.
I am firmly in the camp that life is not and should not be, an exercise in total and utter joy every single day. I tend to remain pretty optimistic but come on…there are going to be days where we want to punch the universe. That’s a good thing. It makes you appreciate the good days even more. The exact same thing with yoga.
I quickly began to realize that fearing failure, or even failure itself, isn’t bad. Fearing the failure is much worse than the actual failure. One time during handstand prep from standing-split, I realized a few things: it was the end of the day, I was sweating so much it looked like I was training alongside Michael Phelps, and the granola bar I had eaten prior to class was currently on its way out of my system through sweat in my pores. Plus, I really had to pee. So the jumps were not going to happen, unless I wanted to have an accident. I chose to remain in standing splits, while ego part of my practice screamed her dissent at me, sneering that I was a wimp in splits while everyone else was jumping around like Kriss Kross. Then, my yoga teacher, during her walk-through, walked right over to me, looked at my leg up the air, adjusted it, and whispered, “nice integrity.” I felt so much better about my choice to forgo the kicks, because she knew it just wasn’t in my practice that day.
Don’t be afraid. Say ‘no’ when you need to. Show compassion to everyone you meet. If you are in an abusive or distressing situation with a friend, co-worker, spouse, or you know you need to end a friendship/relationship because it will set you free, do it. And when you get anxious, breathe. Life is better with breath.
And the super-secret sixth thing yoga gives you aside from a great bootay?
I smile a lot now. I look at life as a thing to be embraced, not something to fear day in and day out. I don’t wake up and feel like the world is ending the instant I leave my bed. I try not to be so scared. I don’t run away from my responsibilities. I say yes when I have to and say no in equal measure. I try to be kind.
That is what yoga has given me, and that is why I keep going back.
(but let’s face it, yoga does make your butt look good.)