Friday, May 15, 2015

Yoga is Like Sex

Yoga is like sex. You can read about it, hear about it, and watch other people do it, but until you experience it first hand, yourself, you don't really get it. So what's the excitement all about? Why is yoga showing up everywhere from auto ads to executive meetings? Why are airlines presenting it to their passengers and why is it featured on Oprah? Kids are doing it in schools; buff athletes are doing it, even pregnant women and the wheelchair-bound. There must be something very seductive about yoga!

photo credit: sunwarrior.com
If you do yoga, you know that it's seductive. That delicious feeling of stretching from the inside out; that soothing sensation like warm honey flowing through energized limbs; and the "big payoff" at the end of a practice: floating away into the infinite. You can't access this in pictures, and yoga isn't a spectator sport. The real experience is only available to you if you actually do yoga.

Yoga is not just about the beautiful bodies of diehard yogis and yoginis, although fitness is definitely one of the major payoffs, yoga is a path to that illusive center we are all seeking...it's a path to inner peace. We're being drawn to yoga by the thousands because we need it; we crave what yoga offers and deeply need the body-mind-spirit connection we experience when we practice the 5000 year old art of yoga.

photo credit: corepoweryoga.com
Increased strength and flexibility, relief from headaches, back problems, sleep troubles, and stress related issues; deep relaxation, feeling energized, powerful, peaceful and centered... Sounds good? These are only a few of the myriad benefits of a yoga practice. Life is so much easier when we feel comfortable in our bodies, relaxed in spirit and come from a peaceful place of power within. Our days become more enjoyable and more relaxed. Our relationships become deeper and more sensitive. The world seems to be more manageable and, rather than reactive, we become positively proactive.

Many people first come to yoga for physical reasons. They want to find relief from back pain or they want to lose weight. They see the external benefits of a yoga practice, but like sex, the internal experience is what keeps them coming back for more.

"This all sounds good," you say, "but I haven't bent forward and touched the floor since I was 12. Sure, seems like a good thing to try, but I haven't exercised since high school! I'd be embarrassed to be seen in those tight yoga clothes... or worse, in a yoga class. I'd make a fool out of myself!" I've heard it all... and there's always a way. Don't allow your chattering mind or your fragile ego to keep you from discovering the treasures you'll find through yoga. Yoga is accessible to everybody. All you need to do is make a decision to go for it.

photo credit: health.com
Regardless of your physical ability, yoga can be adapted to be accessible to you. If you are physically challenged, you can do yoga seated in a chair. Even those who are bedridden can do yoga and we can all benefit greatly from "pranayama," the yoga of the breath.

Too busy? Weave it into your day with seated stretches at your computer, in the airplane, or while standing in line at the bank. Yoga can be subtle, internal and powerful. As you might suspect, I never take "No" for an answer. There's always a way to do yoga.

Here are a few tips to ease your entry into the world of yoga:
The first step is commitment. My first yoga class was a rude wake-up call. Every injury I'd ever had was talking to me. I thought I was in pretty good shape at 44, but my body's ability to do those poses was beyond discouraging... I hated it. There was voice inside my head that screamed, "Get me outta here!" But there was a more persistent little voice inside of me that said, "You don't have to like this, just do it." I knew, on some level, that I'd be really sorry if I quit so I made a deal with myself to keep going back to yoga class twice a week for a month. No judgments, no analyzing, no deciding "like it or not." So I pre-paid the classes and took my body to yoga class. After that month, I was hooked. I highly recommend this approach... It changed my life.

Once you get yourself into yoga class, the next biggest challenge is self-acceptance. A yoga teacher of mine once said, "Begin where you are and stay there." Wise words, and a big relief! After all, there's no other place to start than by accepting ourselves right where we are and realizing that we'll never be exactly there again. Every yoga practice is different because we are different, day-to-day, and minute-to-minute. One of the basic lessons we learn from a yoga practice is not to judge ourselves. For most of us, that's a hard one. Our culture trains us to be competitive. We want to compare ourselves with each other, with the teacher, and especially with our image of what we think we should be able to do. If you want to enjoy your yoga practice, judge not! Watch yourself from the inside; explore the sensations and the new feelings. Experience yourself from the inside out.

photo credit: popsugar.com
Another big hurdle is overcoming the goal-oriented, "Type A" personality approach to yoga; the attitude that the body must conform to perfection and each pose must be the textbook ideal. Give it up! Not a good idea for a number of reasons. First, no body does perfect poses. Not even the teacher, even though you may think so initially. There is no perfect pose. Yoga is a process, not a goal. The perfect pose for your body is different from the perfect pose for my body, or for any other body. The pose that is most integrated and balanced, that give you the best stretch and honors your body's limits... that is your perfect pose.

Secondly, yoga is a process of unfoldment. The symbol of yoga is the Thousand Petaled Lotus that keeps opening its petals deeper and deeper toward its center. Every time you do a pose, it will be a bit different, you'll do it at a different level and from a different place within yourself. Allow for those changes and patiently let yoga bring you to deeper levels of each pose as time goes on. After a while you'll discover that the real yoga isn't about the external form of the poses, it's about how you move the energy in your body to create them from the inside out.

And third, honor your body. It's not about pushing to your limit in every pose. You'll really regret that the next day! Yoga shouldn't hurt, and it's an inside job as to whether or not you'll experience pleasure or pain. You are in control here. The teacher talks, you do the yoga with your body. Just as we resist psychologically when we get pushed too far too fast (Oh yeah? Just try to make me!), our bodies resist as well. So honor your body's limits, don't push; allow, breathe and soften into the poses.

Keep in mind that there are as many different forms of Hatha Yoga (the physical path of yoga) as there are yoga teachers. Every teacher has a unique teaching style, approach and attitude, even if they have been trained in the same yoga lineage. It's important to shop around for a teacher who is well trained and one who inspires you. Find the teacher that suits your style and don't be afraid to go to different classes and change teachers as you develop your yoga practice.

Yoga is an amazing journey of self-discovery. The way you approach your yoga practice is a microcosm of the way you approach your life. It's a truthful mirror, a deep learning and exploration into the depths of the soul. I wish you blessings on your yoga path and light in your journey back to your most beautiful, authentic self.


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