We were playing around, warming up our bodies to get into different “impressive” poses inspired by the majesty of the Treasury of Petra. We were aware of the curious eyes on us, but very focused on getting the shot for Jade Yoga’s 2017 calendar. There was nothing spiritual about what I was doing. I was not too concerned about my breath or the flow of energy. I just wanted my muscles to open up to get me into a pseudo yoga pose for the camera. Naturally, those watching us started wondering if we were training for the circus. It certainly felt that way.
I never aspired to join the circus. And yoga always terrified me. Following celebrity yogis in impossible contortions is intimidating and humbling. How do they do it? More importantly, why can’t I?
Where are all the men at yoga classes? My brother asked recently. He has been practicing yoga for many years. Everyday. For two hours a day. He of course knew well that most men avoided yoga because they believed they were inflexible. He recalled his own journey with yoga, first walking into a roomful of highly flexible women over a decade ago. While the women around him were getting into beautifully aligned forward folds, comfortably resting their entire palms on the mat, he could barely reach his knees. A seasoned athlete all his life, dedicated to his health and wellness, he was humbled at that moment when he came face to face with his inflexibility and his insecurities.
The physical practice of postures- is called a “practice”. It is not an art. It is not a skill or a craft. It is a practice. One is forever a student.
He persisted, committing himself to the practice for years. Today, he is asked to model full expressions of poses to the class. Ladies and gentlemen, meet my very own, live celebrity yogi. What makes him authentic to me –and inspiring- is that I know the dedication it has taken to get him to where he is today. There is a reason why yoga asana –the physical practice of postures- is called a “practice”. It is not an art. It is not a skill or a craft. It is a practice. One is forever a student.
Yoga asana is one of 8 limbs of yoga. The actual physical practice of yoga asana is intended to strengthen the body so that it can sit upright in meditation. Some body types are naturally open and flexible. Others, not so much. Some body types are naturally strong, some not so much. We are all at different levels with different sets of strengths and areas of contrast.
Beside meditation, we need strong, open, aligned bodies for energy to flow freely without obstruction. We draw energy –prana- from our breath. The stronger, more open we are, the smoother the flow. This energy is nature’s very own medicine. It is the fuel to help us function at our optimal state. When there is tension in the body from injury or stress, there is an obstruction in the path of energy, which in turn causes stagnation. If not cleared, this ultimately manifests in a state of dis-ease –in the form of physical or emotional discomfort or illness.
I get it. Believe me. It’s not easy to sit in a roomful of highly flexible practitioners in lotus pose when you cannot even sit upright on the floor in any position. At this juncture, you are faced with two options. If you are like most people, you will walk out of the room determined to work on your flexibility away from the public eye –everyday you tell yourself. Maybe one day, you can attend a class and show all those people how naturally flexible you are.
Or if you are like my brother, you recognize that your ego is bruised. While you nurse it, you vow to address the areas that need attention through practice under the guidance of someone who has walked this path before. Which means you show up for yourself. And you continue to show up. Don’t they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?
We do not step onto our yoga mats for the first –or second or 500th– time- flexible, strong, graceful, and open. But I promise you this: with a dedicated, committed practice, you step off your mat a little more flexible, stronger, and activated. Every single time. And in the process, you end up getting to know yourself.
The journey of yoga has no final destination. You do not arrive when you stand on your head or touch your toes. It is on the journey that you meet yourself. And continue to meet yourself- every time.
Everyone is familiar with the great Sri K. Patabhi Jois‘s famous saying: “Practice and all is coming.” It really is. What is not so widely known is that he has also said “yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus.”
The journey of yoga has no final destination. You do not arrive when you stand on your head or touch your toes. It is on the journey that you meet yourself. And continue to meet yourself every time.