The landscape of yoga has changed a lot lately, by no fault of its own. By the time these changes began to manifest, I had already been on track to become a “retired” yoga teacher. After a solid 12 years of teaching yoga non-stop, I was so burnt out that I just stopped cold turkey. That was almost three years ago.
A lot of yoga teachers focus their classes around calling their poses by their official Sanskrit names and some weave Patanjali’s teachings into their flows. I know a handful of Sanskrit words and I don’t do yoga because of the eight limbs of yoga. I do yoga because it makes me smile. It makes me feel confident. It challenges me and humbles me and keeps me grounded and centered. For me, there is nothing better than the feeling I get when a sequence of poses emerge to sync perfectly with the music, as if they were made for one another. I know that this is not the “right” reason to like yoga or even to teach it, but it is my why.
When I was in teacher training with Shiva Rea in Venice Beach, CA, I was introduced to this image of a wave-like flow that builds as the heat builds and as the body wakes. Classes don’t start with a backbend. They build to a backbend. Everything about the time on the mat is about peeling away the layers of stuck energy, of emotions held in muscles, of stagnation. It’s about choosing a peak pose and wrapping the class around it.
There’s just one problem with being a yoga teacher “full time” and giving everything to our students. It takes a herculean effort to include yourself in that healing practice. At the end of a full day of classes, there is rarely anything left for ourselves. Our needs get shoved to the back burner until they are totally forgotten. The sheer physical and mental drain of holding space for everyone but yourself is a sacrifice that gets more and more difficult to maintain.
Tonight I came home from work, and before I had a chance to put it off, I rolled out my yoga mat, and turned on one of my old playlists, the ones that I created when I was still buying each song and painstakingly placing them together. That’s my secret actually. I create the playlist first and then I add the poses. That way, the flow is never the same. It is always dancing with the music.
It should come as no surprise that I love to dance. Growing up, I went out dancing to all the alternative music of the 80’s that is just as timeless today, 40 years later, as it was when it first appeared. Is it possible to do yoga to Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order and OMD? Roger that. As the opportunities to go clubbing evaporated with my youth, yoga stepped in and showed me a new way to move my body. My memories of sweaty nights spent dancing with strangers on Austin’s 6th street or Houston’s Richmond Avenue, were replaced with sweaty yoga classes to music that awakened something inside of me that I didn’t know was there.
Yoga by itself doesn’t do it for me. Yoga + music is the muse that ignites my personal creativity. Yoga is so much more than warrior one sweeping into humble warrior or triangle pose lifting off into half moon. The breath, the movement and the music all work together to tear down the walls that we build around our hearts and minds. Yoga is the great equalizer. When you walk into a room full of students, everyone is equal. There are no obvious lawyers or doctors or high powered executives. It’s a rubber mat, a physical body and a willingness to be vulnerable among strangers. Tears often flow as the walls come down and it is fucking beautiful.
I feel like all my repressed anger and resentment toward yoga got expressed through a silent fight that we never actually had. I let myself forget how much we loved each other, and we just stopped communicating; but tonight, something happened. As my body started to move, it remembered that love. The music awakened my body’s muscle memory of affection for this practice. The poses are the same no matter what name they are called. They are ancient, they are powerful and they are forgiving.
I may not ever teach again, or I might; who knows. As long as I get to keep teaching myself, me and yoga will be okay. We may argue, we may disagree, but we will always be there for each other. My relationship with yoga is strong, and it is the only one that I know will never leave me. Yoga isn’t going to cheat on me or break my heart. It isn’t going to lie to me or deceive me in any way. Yoga is the most honest and loving partner I could ever desire. It may break my heart wide open, but it won’t ever hurt me.
I am the light of the soul I am bountiful. I am beautiful. I am bliss, I am I am. * I am that I am. (This post inspired by the music of Sarab Deva singing this song.)