As the organized bohemian, I try to balance my structured side with nonchalance. But my approach to learning yoga has skewed my philosophy.
My organized self says: “take a class” while the bohemian in me says: “read a book and DIY.” Since I had done a form of stretching for years, I wanted it to morph naturally into yoga. I thought if I read a book on the subject, I’d become a ‘yogi’ by the time I finished the first page.
But when I’d open a book, I was bombarded with historical information on the Indian roots of yoga and images of instructors doing poses, plus an explanation of the pose (including the breathing techniques). I was easily confused. I’d try a pose – feeling awkward and feeble (the pictures made it look easy) – I’d quickly move on to the next pose. The books never said that patience was a key ingredient to practicing yoga!
I was discouraged and bored. I needed a class. Seeing myself wearing Lululemon pants (hopefully not the see-through kind) with a green yoga mat slung over my shoulder, I was hip. Yet the thought of a crowded class made me claustrophobic, intimidated and competitive. I knew I would start comparing myself to others in the class. I tended to agree with Sartre, “Hell is Other People.” I’d do better on my own.
Pondering Yoga in Pondicherry, India
In 2006, while in Pondicherry, India, I found a book called “Yoga, A Step-by-Step Guide” by Annie Jones. I scanned through its pages and came to the ‘sun sequence’ (Surya Namaskar). The postures looked doable and the sun was shining – it seemed like a good time to try.
Staying at the Park Guest House, I went out to the grass in front of our room, overlooking the Bay of Bengal, and began an awkward, self-conscious attempt at Surya Namaskar.
Without much finesse, I completed the sequence. Looking around me, I imagined Lord Shiva (originator of yoga) appearing before me, saying: “Leave India, you fake!”
Since Shiva never appeared, I watched the woman beside me.
She seemed to be lost in a trance, standing on one leg with the other leg bent behind her head and held by her hands – she was balanced in a precarious position, but in complete control. Her face looked serene. She understood the secret that yoga held.
I was in awe of her. I wanted to be her.
Seven Years Later
I still haven’t taken a class, but for the last year I have been doing my own personal yoga routine every morning before I start my day. I stopped putting pressure on myself to know everything about yoga. Instead, I now combine it with running stretches to create a sequence that works for me.
And when I get too serious about yoga, I recite my short saying:
The half moon watched over the monkey and cobra sitting by a swaying palm tree, when a warrior, riding on a camel, came along carrying a magical star fish.