Life is Yoga

Tree pose at Sleeping Bear Dunes

A few weeks ago, I went to a yoga class the day after vacation, proclaiming to my teacher-friend my body’s need for yoga after three weeks of traveling, long sits, strange beds, and one yoga class.

Teacher-friend listened to my tale and simply said, “Life is yoga.”

Life is yoga.

I started thinking about this phrase.

A few weeks later, in response to my recent post about practice, another friend wrote to say:

“Renée, I love this. Most of us can remember the hours of being told to “practice” something as a child. And whether it’s piano, math, flute, swimming, math,or being kinder to little brother, the commands stick in our brains, creating, I suspect, resistance that keeps us from really getting behind the daily discipline of yoga. But, in addition, I think that “yoga” is also broad enough to include many of the other things in your life like what you are moving towards when you leave the house at 5:30 AM and the fidelity you bring to your writing and the many anniversaries you are celebrating this month.”

This month, I am celebrating five years in Pittsburgh, three years since saying “yes,” to my husband, two years with our house. I’m also remembering my grandfather, who passed away two years ago. Fidelity as yoga? This does broaden the definition.

So, I ask… what does it mean for life to be yoga?

Today, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. because it is the first week of school, and I have to finish writing a syllabus by this afternoon. I’m not a slacker: I just received the new class last week while I was in the mountains north of Atlanta on a yoga-from-a-Christian-perspective research trip. Then there was a wedding…  and now the first week of school.

My life does not feel like yoga, but like one big whirlwind. My husband says, “Can life just be normal for a while now?”

Maybe that’s how I feel in an Ashtanga class, where the instructor asks us to do “just one more vinyasa” and all I want to do is lie down for savasana.

And what is the key to surviving practicing hard poses or flow movements well?

The Breath.

Think about it: you’re in Warrior II, and your knee would really like to be done lunging now, thank you very much. But you keep breathing, imagining the breath giving strength to your knee, and you can stay there for a little bit longer. Yoga Sutra 1.2, paraphrased, says that the state of yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Not that the mind stops, but that it calms.

What is the key to surviving the long line at the grocery store, or sitting at the red light? The breath, drawing it deeply down into the body, sending it out slowly, as if you have all the time in the world.

What we do on the mat reflects and/or trains what we do off the mat. Yoga both teaches us how we respond in our lives off the mat. Yoga also trains us for how to respond to life off the mat. Yoga is more than a pose: yoga is the reaction TO the pose.

Take the idea further for the Christian practicing yoga: the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” could also be interpreted as “cessation of worry or fear turned into trust in God.” That my worry implies lack of trust, lack of being, lack of meeting God in the moment.

That’s very nice and preachy, Renee, but now you have to go back to that syllabus and find a missing monitor cable and…  What does this mean for today, as I tackle an impossible to do list and smelly buses where it’s hard to breathe because of body odor?

Hmm. I think it means recognizing that the more I relax into my busyness, the more I don’t panic when the bus comes on time, then the more space I have in my mind to plan, to read, to notice the reactions of my students. How do I not panic or second-guess myself? Breathing. Breathing deep, exhaling long…  exhaling the worry out my toes, inhaling the life-giving, creativity-infused God-breath.

Warrior II at Lake Michigan sunset

Doesn’t solve the smelly bus problem…  but, hey, it’s a start. We celebrate small victories in this space.

Life is yoga, and today I am breathing in an intense Warrior II.

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