22 Aug 2014
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The Yoga Getaway

Does your Yoga practice help you deal with reality or escape it?

The Yoga Getaway

Traffic. Furloughs. Kids. Spouse. Politics. Stress. Stress. Stress. I can’t handle it! I gotta get away! I can’t take it! Where’s my Yoga class? Ahhhh, mat. After class, chat. Then back to… Traffic. Corpse pose and Om long forgotten, snf serenity has been tossed out the SUV window. Did anything change me in class? Or am I still yelling at the person who cut me off?

Yoga Perspective

My friend Jamie, a world- traveling Yoga teacher, recently moved back to the mountains and opened her own studio. She and I discussed the differences in mentality between city Yogis and mountain Yogis. She observed that Yogis in Los Angeles tended to use Yoga class as an escape from their hectic lives.

I related that my experience of DC-Metro Yogis was similar. Not that there aren’t exceptions, but overall the Yoga students in this area treat Yoga classes like spinning class or aerobics. It’s another somewhere to escape or hide from the stressors of life.

But Yoga does have a philosophical background and it’s centered around how we approach “the good life”. The idea, from what I’ve gathered, is to take the physical-mental space I cultivate on the mat out into daily life.

“Open Your Heart”

There are many ways to cultivate physical-mental space. “Heart-openers” is a phrase used frequently in Yoga for any posture involving expanding the rib cage, usually involving a backbend. Camel, bridge, wheel, and just about anything involving an arched back usually qualify as “heart-openers”, but it’s a metaphor.

Doing any of these postures doesn’t open your heart so that your inner love spreads all over the universe. These postures might simply allow your intercostals to stretch, then inviting better breathing, which may or may not improve your overall personality. Or you might overdo it, crunch your lower vertebrae, and turn into a cranky jackass who yells at people in traffic.

The postures have a purpose. Yes, they’re designed to keep the body healthy, but so is a recumbent bicycle, and frankly, I’ve met cyclists who are volumes more enjoyable to be around than some Yogis. Including me. Yoga mat practice doesn’t necessarily make me nicer. All postures in Yoga are supposed to make the body quieter so that one can cultivate the ability to sit quietly and watch one’s thoughts.

But how can I change my thought patterns if I’m always running away from them? I can’t. I gotta face the patterns and practice the changes.

Begin Within and Face the Facts

While it’s always easier said than done, it can still be done. One could easily argue that mountain Yogis have an easier go at having less stress, but arguing that point doesn’t help cultivate an “open heart”. It cultivates a “closed mind”.

I can invent excuses all day long for why I can’t do something, but unless I use my Yoga practice to look critically at my mental and physical shortcomings I’m going to continue to yell at people in traffic. Just because we live in a metropolitan area doesn’t mean we can’t overcome the obstacles. We absolutely can. And face reality. If we pay attention to it.

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