Up until a year ago, I was reluctant to try yoga in any serious way as a means to reach a state of zen, a place where I could use my body to achieve not only greater flexibility but a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit. There are two major reasons for such hesitation:
1) I’m a chronic fidgeter. The idea of remaining still and holding positions while concentrating on breathing seemed inconceivable. Multi-tasking usually comes easily to me but I thought that the combination of physical and mental concentration would be too challenging.
2) I’m an overthinker. When I’m told to relax and just let my mind settle, I do the opposite. Without much control, my thoughts flow in and out a mile a minute, thus making everything mentioned in reason #1 quite difficult.
That being said, serenity through yoga seemed like a lofty undertaking.
My other reservation about yoga was that it is trendy. It is especially trendy in the US (increasingly in France as well) where it has been made into a form of mainstream mass-marketed lifestyle exercise that costs just as much, if not more so, than a traditional gym membership. The studios sell yoga clothes made from organic cotton for obscene prices and people feed into it because they want to feel part of something, kind of like how Kabbalah became the it thing for 5 minutes with its celebrity followers.
But yoga is empowering and, if done right, can be a cheap form of therapy. For me, my first yoga class was an attempt to find a solution for a persistent problem. A year later, I’m hooked but only with my instructor. She debunks all the yoga-blah blah and has helped me understand that whereas in most aspects of our lives we’re taught to push ourselves – run further, run faster, lift more weights, struggle, work harder, climb the corporate ladder –to become something we think we should be, yoga is about the opposite.
This type of ‘pushing’ philosophy is predominant in American culture – “be the best”, a message implying that we are not good enough as is, an illusion stemmed from greed, power, and fear. Fear from what? For one, of not being good enough and of walking into the unknown. We don’t know why we are made to do certain things or why our lives unfold the way they do, but we push ourselves to reach a certain goal to be sure there is reason. It is a way for us to see we are ‘getting’ somewhere. This can also be applied to the modern interpretation of yoga with draconian training (à la Madonna), mats, and pretty outfits. If we push ourselves to become the image of what we think yoga is, then we’re advancing, making progress, bettering ourselves. Right? Not so much.
True yoga is about letting go and surrendering to something bigger than ourselves. In yoga, I’m told to go only to my body’s limits, to breathe into the resistance and to become comfortable with discomfort. I don’t have to push myself to stretch further, hold the position longer, or force flexibility if my body isn’t yet there. I am one of those people who has trouble pushing themselves at the gym – if it starts to get too painful or difficult, I stop. That used to define my approach to other aspects of my life as well. I almost didn’t come to France because I was too scared, afraid of leaving me comfort bubble. Fortunately, that has started to change.
While I may not be any less fidgety or able to set aside all that is going on in my life to concentrate on my breathing, yoga (and more specifically my instructor Sarah) has made certain life truths all the more clear. Feeling like we constantly need to push ourselves and compete with others is unhealthy and self-torturing. Sometimes just letting go leads to that state of zen and serenity that we all eternally seek in our lives.
Are you guilty of pushing yourself harder than necessary? How do you stay zen?