Yoga is about in the moment, and gifting yourself with that moment.
I am interning right now and teaching classes in yoga. I am teaching in a park– donation based yoga. The other morning, I had no students, so was sitting on my mat and just holding the space as we wait for these classes to catch on and students to come—if we build it, they will come! A woman sat at a picnic table near me. I started up a conversation with her about yoga. She told me her lower back was “frozen” from sitting at a computer and did I know anything she could do? Yes, gratefully I did! I demonstrated some postures to her—cat/cow, cobra, downward facing dog…but also just standing in mountain pose and feeling the pelvis tuck under the hips, tucking the chin slightly and lowering the shoulders. She did not move from the picnic table—in fact held onto the picnic table edges and said she was not ready for yoga. However, she also kept asking me questions and I kept answering and demonstrating.
The next day she returned with a mat, and took a physical class. And has been coming back to my class ever since.
How has increased body awareness through yoga led to a positive change in me? I am aware of my body and its limits. I am aware of my body and me within this body, and the body working to hold me/ my essence in a very different way than before yoga. This has led to the positive change – to put it quite simply, that I decided to love myself—as I am… wrinkles and all!
I, too, have returned with the proverbial mat to take not just a class, but take back my life. By that I mean, I am in that space of spirit opening to the self/ to life—right now. When I am in a downward dog, or plank and it is hard to hold and I hold it and breathe into it and I hold it and can stay in it just that little bit longer and then release and feel that sweet flood of releasing tension—I am loving myself.
As women, we are trained to find love outside of ourselves—and yet we will never be able to hold onto that love if we don’t start loving ourselves from the inside out. I had quickly grown to not like myself anymore, to be ashamed, and to feel unworthy of attention— all because of wrinkles on my upper lip! It is embarrassing to admit this, because so many folks have so much more going on. It is ludicrous, not just embarrassing, to admit that this was an issue for me. And still is an issue. But, what is also correct is that to be a woman in our culture and to not be affected by the media onslaught of images is almost unrealistic. And for many of us –impossible. It takes enormous effort for a woman to feel “ok” about herself in spite of the images of beauty which she is shoved up against. These images suggest that we should somehow find a way to look younger and therefore prettier and if we have not found that way, if we have not found a way as the current make-up ads suggest to appear “ageless’ we have not done enough work (Wolf posits this as the “third shift”). We should be ashamed of our lack of work ethic in terms of finding a solution to the problem of aging, of looking like we are aging. The media suggests strongly that somehow—if we tried hard enough– we would find a solution to looking older. And the truth is –the only solution to not looking older is to die young.
Yoga provides a simple, clear force against this damaging meta-narrative. Yoga has in a very deep way taught me to respect myself where I am. What is different about yoga, from martial arts or other sports—is that I am not in competition, first of all. But also, there is a deep connection in yoga to being ok with where you are right now. So that I am not even in competition with the self—there is no…I’ll run 3 miles today and next month 5 miles.
Yoga is just being here, right now, where you are, where I am. When a yoga teacher tells me—for right now, let everything go and just be on the mat, she is gifting me with a present of the present moment. Give yourself the gift of this hour. So many times, so many work outs I concentrated on what was next—after the work out—not what I was doing in the moment. Yoga is about in the moment, and gifting yourself with that moment.
I am married—and in love with my wife, and am deeply loved back. It is not that I don’t feel loved. Or that she does not feel me being concerned about wrinkles is –-ridiculous? She is the one to say, “What wrinkles?” But, what I am talking about on the yoga mat is developing self-love and self-love of body—as it is.
Yoga helps us develop a space for that self-love –a daily space—where what happens is deep love of self in the face of the daily assault that tells us as women to not love ourselves as we are. That love of the self is something earned—that we get to love ourselves when we…fill in the blank…when I lose those 5 extra pounds, when I grow out/ cut my hair, get my nails done, when I get that make-over, when I….Not I love myself as I am right now.
Yoga is that- -I love myself right now– praxis. Not the …I might love myself if I work hard enough to earn it. Yoga is an acceptance of the body’s limits, love for where the body is right now, today. Yoga is taking a journey with the body—not jumping ahead and lamenting the past—but being right here, right now with the body…that is yoga. And it is revolutionary.
Part I of this post can be found here.
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.