Listen – yoga is a practice that is designed to fulfill two basic human needs.
- To move
- To heal
What about the breath? That is a means to heal. What about the postures? We hold still so that we can move. Meditation? That is how we heal our minds.
I’m going to be honest – I have been a little sick of yoga lately. This coming from someone who is a yoga teacher, practitioner, and cheerleader. (Yes, there are cheerleaders in yoga, we get to wear compression leggings, and wave poms made of sweetgrass.) But, I have become sick of the seriousness of yoga.
It’s 5:45 am, and I’m on my way to the yoga studio with my mat in my mat bag slung over my shoulder. It’s winter, so under my layers of outdoor gear I have my matching bra/tank/yoga pants ensemble – bonus points because it matches my mat. I smell the incense from up the street and as I get closer my mind switches over into yoga mode. As the door opens the sounds of calming harps and pan pipes makes my eyelids immediately droop. The interior of the studio is dimly lit and a diffuser floats tiny particles of eucalyptus to my nose. — wait, no, that’s my cough drop, it’s winter — the studio actually smells like cinnamon and sweet orange, a scent that reminds me, pleasantly, of Tang. Sloughing off my layers of winter clothes we fast forward to laying out my mat on the floor because that sh*t takes f*ckin’ forever. After I do my warm-up stretching and lay down on my mat to wait for the teacher, the Mongolian throat singing starts.
This, this is yoga.
The moving, I have been doing. I have that down. It’s the healing that I crave. The healing that the yoga community is trying to provide with its prescribed formula for relaxation. But 5 drops of patchouli oil in a himalayan salt warmer isn’t the type of thing that’s going to speak to me.
My friend, Hannah, another yogi turned yoga teacher practices a style called Mysore. During Mysore classes the group isn’t lead by the teacher, rather the teacher walks through the class giving one-on-one instruction to the people who are all following their own practice. Up in South Lake Tahoe, in the snowy depths of winter, there are sometimes Mysore classes that are completely empty except for one teacher and one student. It is during these times that Hannah revealed her music playlist to her teacher. A playlist that ranges from Closer by NIN to Sunday Kind of Love by Etta James. Now, okay – perhaps those seem perfectly congruent to you. How about Drowning Pool’s Bodies and Bach’s Cello Suites in G Major? Her teacher’s response: “I don’t know why it works, but it does – it takes you up and it takes you down, and you’re ready for Savasana at the end.” – improvised, I wasn’t there.
I think of this encounter with the irreverent every time I’m on my mat. Even more so when I’m getting my third gong bath of the day. Why are we trying to practice in this overtly solemn and holy way? Who deemed this music, this oder, this movement sacred? Why does the sacredness make it correct?
The deeper I get into my yoga practice the more I find myself laughing or crying on my mat. I fall over harder and harder, I lay still for longer in order to feel the feeling of my lungs expanding. These are sacred to me. These are sacred because they are authentic. Why, then, am I forcing myself to swan dive from extended mountain pose to forward fold in one long breath? I feel more comfortable with two. Why am I forcing myself to lay still and focus on my third eye when my body wants to move?
I had a tiny brush with irreverent music during my Yoga Teacher Training Practicum. I worked it out so that, while I was teaching handstands, Shamir’s Make a Scene would play. It was so fun to practice with and it made so much sense to me. I loved practicing throwing my feet up in the air to the uplifting beat and the silly/serious lyrics. Why not just try? Why not flip
your feet up into a handstand? So what if you fall, so what if your heart pounds really hard because it’s really scary? Why not go out and make a scene? Regrettably, I chickened out at the last minute. I let the song play for a few bars then I turned it down so that I could give some direct instruction. Instead of turning it back up like I should have during the fun interlude where I always tried at least 5 handstands in a row, I just switched to the next song and the next part of the practice. (It really didn’t help that I broke my ankle between choosing the music and teaching the class – not doing handstands – roller skating, but it had shaken my confidence.)
A few days ago I found myself in Las Vegas. I was there to see one of my friends present her book chapter at a conference. But, Amanda being Amanda, we had an amazing hotel room on the 36th floor of the Cosmopolitan hotel. This room had a balcony and a Japanese style soaking tub that overlooked the Bellagio fountains and the length of the strip. Now, I carry my yoga mat with me everywhere. (I have a tiny travel mat and it leaves me with no excuses.) I realized that the last time I had taken that mat out and used it during a trip was 2 Thanksgivings ago in Las Vegas at my In-Laws house. Now, let me be clear, this was not the last trip that I had taken nor was it the last trip to Vegas. No – this mat had been to Seattle, it had been to Texas, it had even been to Japan, all with no use. Then another irreverent yoga thought came to mind: Jason Headly’s F*uck That: An Honest Medidtation. Before I left on my trip my co-worker had shown it to me and we both nearly died laughing. Her because she found it so hilarious, me watching her reaction to the meditation. I remembered laughing that way when the video first came out – this was before I was really into yoga and meditation made no sense to me. I had a laugh but ultimately didn’t have any grounding in why this was funny except that it made fun of “serious yoga people.”
For a moment I was mad – I couldn’t let the last time my travel yoga mat was used be on my in-laws dusty balcony. And I said F*UCK THAT. I hopped out of bed and opened my yoga mat on the floor of the hotel room. (The aforementioned balcony would have been too cold, it was 30 degrees that day — it’s still winter.) From my spot in the middle of the hotel room I could still see the strip and the sun rising up in the East reflecting off of the long face of the Bellagio and the awkward Roman columns of
Caesars Palace. I still smelled like the Five Wits Cucumber Body wash that I used to make a bubble bath — and my hair still smelled a bit like cigarette smoke from the casino. I smiled at my body as I did my first downward dog in a – very long – time and my baggy t-shirt sagged and my breasts swung freely. I laughed as my toes popped and I looked around for a mirror to see my form – I couldn’t find one from my vantage point. I felt the wave of relief as I did my jump forward and felt my blood singing in my veins. The only music in the room was my own ujjayi breathing. I could still move. My body still knew what would feel good even without someone telling me what movements to do. I did a 45 minutes practice without even thinking about what would come next. I just listened to the movements and let my mind drift.
That feeling of being in my body but free from it. The feeling of being both together and apart. And a part. That is why I got into yoga. That is why I return to my mat time after time. That is why I wanted my travel mat’s most recent experience of yoga to be an exuberant, high flying, joyful experience. Not an experience of simply coping with holiday stress.
Later, back home, and at work. I discovered a new Janelle Monáe song – which caused me to listen to her back catalogue. All of my old favorites, and some newer ones that I had missed. One of the songs that had been missing in my life was Yoga. Needless to say that Ms. Monae’s irreverent take on yoga inspired this entire essay.
What I leave you with is: Be your own private dancer. Your experience of yoga is your own, and sometimes other people’s Mongolian Throat music isn’t going to speak to you. Your body — and your wounds — know what they need – and sometimes all they need is to be listened to.
How to build a healing practice.
1 – stretch.
2 – follow what feels good.
3 – listen to what feels good.
4 – look at what feels good.
5 – breathe.
When you run out of moves, take another yoga class. But remember, the teacher is only there to to offer suggestions, they are only a guide. It’s your experience with your body that really matters. Let your booty do that yoga.
Vicki Scott is an art doula, an irreverent yogi and a philosopher of personal spirituality and creativity. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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