Please come see me at BadlandsYoga.com, where I feature free audio, special events, class information and where I blog at Notes from the Mat! Ask your yoga questions and get answers, support and inspiration. New posts weekly! Thanks for reading! Christine
What is “real” yoga anyway? And what do “real” people look and act like? And where does “real” life start?
“Real” yoga is all about listening. Sure, it’s about listening to your teachers and your bestie and your kids and your boss, but all those get better as you learn how to listen to you. And not that “nya nya nya” voice that has a stock list of 100 phrases playing your head, because that is not you. That is habit, that is programming, that is trauma, dear.
You may not sound like anything at any given day and time. The you you learn to listen to is the you of your breath: what does your breath tell you when you listen for more than an inhale? It is your body: step onto your mat and find out what it has to tell you. The lessons are deeper than words.
For my money (and time and soul), “real” yoga is not a matter of lineage, tradition, trips to India or ability to do the latest iteration of a one armed, pretzel footed peacock (though those are fun, too). “Real” yoga has to do with what you find, learn, listen and respond to on the mat, when it’s just you. No leading voice, just your experience and intuition. “Real” yoga is your home practice. Yes, in conjunction with all kinds of outer teachers, but the one ingredient no yogi can miss is home practice. It’s what you do on your own, when no one is looking, in private and without facebook, instagram or twitter that is your yoga. “Real” yoga is the home practice of yoga.
Think about it this way: the rail thin, leather-skinned dude who lives in a cave and sits in lotus pose 10 hours a day, the 1970s avatar of what yoga looks like… how did he find his yoga? Sure, he probably had a teacher somewhere, but that teacher told him, “Go away, put it into practice. Talk to me in ten years.” And so he went, he practiced. Maybe he found the same teacher again, maybe another. But the teacher didn’t say, “Come to my class for an hour every day, or maybe just twice a week.”
And real people? They look like you, of course. You’re as real as it gets. Someone should really listen to you. That’s a powerful thing to do. Attention. Your attention. It’s the most powerful thing there is. Don’t lavish it all over everyone else and forget to include you.
And real life? It looks like yours: with bills and friends and family and cars that break down and hearts that soar and hurt and trust and learn and bodies that live and run and hurt and heal. Bodies, hearts and minds that need yoga when they need yoga – maybe in the middle of a meeting (breathing is best here) or first thing in the morning, before you’d realistically leave the house. How long they need yoga: 15 minutes a day has a profound effect. How they need yoga: some days restorative yoga trumps everything.
Real yoga supports people like us, you and me, listening in the midst of a life that isn’t as simple as living in a cave and may not be near a yoga studio. Heck, yoga studios aren’t always the best places to listen. But where you are – right now? That’s a good place to listen – to you. So roll out a mat, stand at the top and find your Mountain. Then do the next thing. Keep it going and you’ll learn a lot. About you.
For solid support, information and short practices to get you started (you get to riff on them), visit the other Badlands Yoga blog. And leave a comment here or there to tell us about your practice and how you own it.
- “Real Yoga” Revealed. (elephantjournal.com)
- The Everyday Yogi: One Man’s Journey to Find Himself Through Yoga (newamericamedia.org)
- What Does Yoga Mean For You? (theblissfulblog.com)
- Yoga Realness & Truth. And Love. (formula457.com)
I’m moving and you’re invited to the housewarming!
Badlands Yoga has a new home and will be growing with online courses, ebooks, and more. You can already download free guided practices and meditations! There’s a survey to let me know what you’re interested in knowing more about and even a forum where you can receive personal answers to your questions!
Want more?! Come on over and check it out 🙂 Sign up for the newsletter on the last tab to be updated with all the news coming this year 🙂 You’ll get free gifts and undying love! Okay, you already have that, but gifts are good, too 😉
I’ll still be writing over here and even at eleJ, but for now, let’s hang out over in the badlands. Let me know what you think!
I write from doing, not from thinking. Words come out my fingers, but for that to happen the rest of my body has to have moved. When I’m stuck it’s probably because I’m trying to know: to find that certainty that will bring everything under control; to find the naming that will put life in its place; to let me return to previously scheduled programming. I have appointments and projects and deadlines, don’t you know. Oh, you do. And you don’t care. I see.
When I need to know, I go to my mat. Well, really my yoga room. It’s true, I’ll start on my mat, but there’s no guarantee I’ll stay or end up there. I’m more a choreographer than a researcher. More applied than theoretical. I move to find stillness and close my mouth to find words that are true.
I know that when I sit to write and am overwhelmed with by the enormity of the abyss, my place is not writing: it’s on the mat. I know that when every time I open my mouth gooey, difficult, sticky, hang-in-the-air-and-wish-I-could-reel-back words come out (words like cry and death and sad and how) it’s time to go in, close the door and find out what happens next.
It doesn’t mean that the abyss and the gooey words retreat right away, or even soon. But jumping in makes the abyss less other and strangely allows its native stickiness to permeate and nourish my tissues so I don’t have to pin it down in words. The words that will come later will be truer for this foray into the void.
Yoga is my version of “Where the Wild Things Are.” They are here, all around, waiting for us to shut up and see that they don’t care about our schedules because they care so much about what we have to give.
I know writers who can use their craft to escape what is most immediate, vexing or insoluble in their lives.
That’s not how my muse works. My muse is blind prophet peppering me with truth-telling riddles in the night. Riddles whose answer is in the details I don’t yet know. My muse is a two-year old who asks the same question over and over again. While I’m writing about application of standards and guidelines in adult learning, she whines, “What about that thing you wept about this morning? How does that fit in? What about it? How about from this angle? And how does it fit in here?”
My muse is a four-year old who tilts her head sideways, squinches her nose and crinkles her eyes before saying the one thing I’m avoiding: the thing that brings me to my knees.
My muse is a bitch.
When I’m in the throes of not knowing – whether it’s not wanting to know or inescapably in the window of groundlessness – my muse ties my arms behind my back. Try typing like that. Even if I can unbind and bring my fingers to the keyboard, they are mute. Or worse. Clinical. Cold. Channeling a wasteland of insight. When I’m going through something private, all she’ll do is scream. I want to work on that Chart Review project, but everything seems like a commentary on the thing that I’m keeping to myself. I want to work on that personalized yoga class subscription plan, but everything I record is really all about my thing. The thing. The one she wants to scream.
Maybe she ties me up because I sush her. Shhhhh… there’s something bigger, behind that word you’re itching to say. Saying it won’t make the thing it refers to hurt less. Saying the word won’t bring you control. No, it won’t make you feel better or bring you release. Shhhhh… for once, the word isn’t important. Yes, we live our days in universe of words. Yes, I believe in the power of the word. But that power comes from letting the word arise, not from slapping it on. This one’s going to take time. Shhhhh… let’s listen to the sounds of the garden.
How do you go about your day with a 4-year-old who knows all your secrets and wants to tell the check out guy at the grocery store – the one who is kind and observant and means you no harm – all about the sadness she sees you carry when he says “Long day, huh?” And you half smile and say, “Long week.” How do you balance the guilelessness and innocence of her warrior like openness with your own hard-won knowledge that some sadness doesn’t fit into a five sentence exchange.
Do you tell the sweet garden lady who begins an unbidden dissertation on the colors of Echinacea they have in this year that you’re here because you’ve taken time off work to draw comfort from the soil of your garden for some wordless devastation you know the common name for but can’t bring yourself to contain in a cold and sterile word? And that you really could not care one jot less because you really just want the purpurea and though you see her mouth moving you haven’t heard a word.
Or do you look them all in the eye – the casual noter of your weariness, the excited sharer of trivia, the numb querant of “How’s it goin’? ” – “Poorly, very poorly. Something terrible that I can’t control is happening and I don’t know how I’m going to live out the day, though I know from prior experience that I will. How are you?”
The truth is that saying the seemingly true sentence isn’t always the truest thing you can do. Sometimes truth is only told through silence: silence that isn’t sterile, but rich with everything unearthed by that thing you couldn’t control barreling through your very thoughtful and dependable life. Sometimes the best thing to do is close up shop, buy roses and honeysuckle and compost and seeds and find yourself covered in earth. Loose yourself. Loose your muse. Don’t worry; she’s a junkie, she’ll be back. A little stronger for her stay in the garden of rehab. Her word detox. Having her supply cut. Bitches are tough. She can take it.
- The Downside of Being One Tough Mother (theyogadiaries.net)
You want something. You wish, long, ache for that something. You wish for such a long time, the ache becomes part of who you are: it has a location in your body, you can feel it’s boundaries and when they change. It maybe even has a flavor. It becomes familiar, so familiar it fades into the air you breathe. It melts into your tissues so completely that the wish no longer seems like it’s for something outside you. It exists in its own right and no longer reaches forward. The aching wish has just become a fact, like another organ. So much so that when someone, a friend, asks playfully, “What do you really want? What would make you happy?” you name other things, because you’ve come to accept living with the wishfulness of this wish and no longer imagine it happening.
It happens. Seemingly against all odds. It’s reality creeps up on you because you’ve substituted the reality of the want, which you could have, for the reality of it existing outside you. You misinterpret the cues and clues that your improbable magic dream has come to be, in real flesh and blood. Until one day something stares you in the face to say, “I’m here.” It’s here. The thing you’d thought couldn’t be, could only be in your heart, could only exist in a rarefied world of longing, has come to be in the world of death and decay, life and becoming. Holy. Shit.
You re-arrange your entire being – no. Your entire being begins to dissolve in the moment your dream’s reality dawns on you, and it begins re-arranging you. You are the wish now, it is the reality. But that means it is in peril. This is the world of life and death, being and becoming, being-with-dying. It’s vulnerable to wind and rain, love and indifference, blows and embraces.
You harden. Trying to protect the dream that is not a dream. Willing it to be as invulnerable as it had become when it only lived in your heart. Oh. My. God. What if I lose this most amazing thing? You resist becoming a living wish because the blood coursing through that living wish could run cold in an instant of loss. Because blood is now running through your dream, which makes it a real dream: it can bleed. But it can also dance.
You thought you were a living wish before, because you’d absorbed the dream that seemed impossible. But it was a living void, which is very poignant, but not the same. You have the chance now to become a living wish: to hold a space of love and ferocity and tenderness for something not-you to grow in. This is much more risky. We all have a living void – it is at the heart of being human. But to choose to become a living wish: to tend a dream that will inevitably become bigger than you, will not bend to your will, have a life and death you have no say over, to hold that space patiently, fiercely, acceptingly, knowing that just because you assent to this adventure doesn’t mean it will turn out any of the ways you’ve wanted, that it will likely read and manifest the very things you are most threatened by, that your care and love cannot keep your beloved – or yourself – from harm, that the fulfillment of your desire and will can only lead to their own dissolution: to choose to embrace and get caught up in this madness is the hardest thing I’ve ever contemplated.
This dream may be a book or a business, an empire or a family. We all have our improbable blessings. It is so very human to bow their improbability, to have cakes or cars in their place when the improbability of the beautiful thing that lives in your soul asserts itself over and over again. And this resignation – relinquishing our illusions and attempts to force the improbable things into being – is itself part of their re-arranging us. Ceding power is part of the adventure it seems. Absorbing the longing, saying yes to living with it, even if it never reaches into the world we share with all the others, is perhaps part of the dissolving process.
But then – joy of joys! – we are called upon to resign our resignation. This penultimate step of re-arranging our being is perhaps the most heart-breaking, so far, for me the most difficult to accomplish. Can you step into the reality of that longing? To dissolve enough to become the thing that contain the waiting and joy and the tenderness and the pain and the love all in one house? Are you strong enough to yield to this coming true? Can you feel all the joy and love and electricity of your most cherished dream wriggling toward the light, knowing that you may lose it again, for good, irredeemably, in an instant? Hop on that train now, because that loss may be just around the bend. The loss will be no less devastating because you weren’t on the train, but you will lose so much more: the time you could have been in heart-rending, soul-tearing love.
And who knows? Your improbable blessing may grow to full heart-breaking reality. To be the bigger than you thing that brings things you never could have even dreamed. New things to grow and break your heart. Could you be so lucky?
I have new, sleek, white and blue, rounded edge bolsters. Just waiting in my closet. Part of the reason they’re still new is that I keep reaching for my first massage oil stained, slightly lumpy after too many times stuffed back into its laundered cover, ripped in one seam bolster. When I look for something to drape my spine over in either a restorative forward bend or gentle back bend, I’ll go across the room to grab my ratty old blue bolster, even if the new sleek ones are close by.
Maybe its the memory of toting it all over Sedona the summer I spent a week doing yoga on the most improbable sandstone spires, or of my happiness when the motel where I’d absent-mindedly left it shipped it back to me. Or the one of my first restorative seated forward fold over my very own bolster at home. Not a sofa cushion, not three pillows: a bolster. Made for supporting forward folding and hearts. Made for yogis who take their practice to heart. Or the times I’ve wept into it. Or the smiles I’ve melted into over it.
But it’s probably just that all those lumps offer infinite variability and new ways to experience my poses. Put your forehead here and it’s perfectly centered. Here, and it’s ever so slightly turned to one side. Rest your arms at this angle and melt. At this one and feel your edge. The lumps are probably from substandard stuffing or maybe just age. The stains and small seam tears are from living. I’ll never take this bolster for my students to use: it looks like it needs a bath even when just out of the wash. I’ll keep it at home, my personal support, organically molded by my practice and my life.