“What is the point of yoga?”
My mind wanders to that question while I brush my teeth in the morning. And later, when I’m driving the familiar road to the farm in Easton to buy eggs, taking in the winter trees. Why? When night deepens and the windows become mirrors that reflect a brightly lit kitchen back to me as I unpack bags of produce onto the counter. Do I do yoga?
I’m not necessarily looking for the definition given by any scripture. I don’t care why the yoga-lebrities say. Why do I–Bernadette Birney–do this practice? How do I define this peculiar thing I do that entails standing on one foot, and on my hands, and playing with my breath, and then lying down on the floor to pretend to be dead?
Over the last 15 years I’ve asked myself this question with varying answers. When I began practicing, I was looking for…something. I’d started going to the gym in my teens. Yoga was a way to move that felt more meaningful than banging the machines around in the weight room.
Then yoga became a way of expressing spirituality. I’d never connected with any organized religion before, or in the wooden pews of the church I sporadically attended as a child, but I was told in class that yoga wasn’t a religion. I could be spiritual without being religious. I signed up.
I trained to be a teacher and learned–as so many of us do–that yoga comes from the verbal root yuj which means, to yoke. So I should understood yoga to mean yoking body, mind and heart; wedding the temporal to the infinite.
When I was certified to teach a specific style of yoga, it was
beaten into me politely impressed upon me that my job as a yoga teacher was to make sure that people feel better by the end of my class. For a long time I believed that but I no longer do. (I now identify my responsibility as a yoga teacher as creating a safe space in which students have both their personal experience and our shared one.)
With vigor, I took up philosophical studies. My teacher–who became my friend–raised a good point: weren’t those things I’d been so busy endeavoring to yoke–like mind, body and heart–already intertwined? Last I’d checked both heart and mind were already right there in my body where I’d left ‘em. Maybe investing in connecting what was already connected wasn’t the best use of my limited time on the blue planet.
So I put down my superglue and took up yoga as a world view, instead. I practiced consciously deepening the relationship between as many aspects of myself as I could handle, and my world. For example, although my mind and body were obviously already colleagues, my awareness of the partnership was not so keen. I felt more like I was penned up in the tip of an ice burg–all up in my head–than as though I resided fully in my body.
In spite of a whole shit-ton of asana everything from my neck down might as well have been a far away place, for all purposes submerged. I became interested in being more embodied. Or–more consciously embodied.
“Virtuosity in being human,” Douglas Brooks says.
My yoga is not about simply being in the moment. It is not about the yoga sutras; not about the perfect handstand. Not about moving my thighs back. It is not about forgiveness, unconditional love, transcending or rising above anything. My yoga is not those things yoga is sometimes alleged to be.
My yoga is my recognition that I am appearing in this human body–as this human body-- for a limited time only. I want everything I do on the mat to deepen my embodiment and support the great many things I want to do off my mat. Householder yoga–that’s my yoga.
I suppose it’s natural that I’ve been asking myself–wait, why do I do yoga, again?–because in the last year my yoga landscape changed last year as dramatically as though there’d been a landslide. Unstable foundations slid away. That happen swhen we take up the yogic path.
In a couple of weeks my next teacher training begins. I have no contract with any particular style of yoga to be mindful of. No responsibility to teach anyone’s curriculum but my own. I remain happily rooted within a tradition that has always been closest to my heart, but also–this baby is the fruit of my years of inquiry, my study, my experience, my yoga. I get to share it.
These fledgling teachers get to define yoga for themselves. I get to help.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to lead a program.
What does your yoga look like? Leave a comment below and let us know.
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