Why would I invite you to stop doing yoga?
The operative word is "doing." I've now been in Seva (selfless service) residence at the Himalayan Institute in the rolling hills of the Poconos for almost two months, and while I've been studying, practicing, and facilitating yoga for over two decades, and pursuing meditation and self-contemplation for over half a century, I've learned, rather experienced, more about the true meaning of "yoga" during this visit than in all of those decades of study combined. Profoundly, to the core, and with incomparable value.
If I'm suggesting that we stop "doing" yoga, why did I choose a photo of me in a yoga pose (Bharadvajasana)? It happens to be one of my favorite poses, but what makes it a favorite is not what it looks like. It is not about how I shaped the architecture of my body.
It is more about something I've heard from one of my favorite teachers here, Shari Friedrichsen, who effortlessly shares wisdom during asana practices. Recently, as she had us in a classic standing pose, she offered this: "Stop doing the pose. As you are here, in the pose, feel it. What are you experiencing in this moment?" The idea was to let go of working on just arranging your body into a certain form, and letting it go at that. What a wonderful lens, what a remarkable purpose for a pose. Yes!
I offer a similar cue in my asana classes. After I've "cued" how to get into a pose, if I'm asking the class to hold the pose longer than usual, I offer, "Let go of the notion that you are having to hold the pose for a long time. Let the pose hold you." For me, this is how to "do" yoga. Stop doing it, begin to feel it, breath it. You may find the pose itself has a much longer shelf life of feeling good, long after you've stopped the doing.
If yoga is not so much about "doing" a pose with your body, what is it, more importantly? When asked "What is success in yoga," TKV Desikachar, one of the most influential teachers in establishing yoga in the west in the 20th century, summed it up this way:
"Yoga is relationship."
Yes, Desikachar was an adept at asana, as you can see in the above photo. But after decades of practice, while he could assemble his body in such a challenging pose, one that not many people can "master," he stressed that that is not how to be successful in yoga. It is about the quality of your relationships. I sense this is one of the things he had in mind when he stated that teaching yoga for transformation is far more important than teaching yoga for information, which beautifully sums up how my experiences here have a greater relevance than all the studies I've done over the years. This is one of the most important of the many life lessons I've witnessed, and begun to learn, here at H.I.
With over 100 residents here, and many more journeying here for H.I.'s weekend and personal retreats, true relationship is in full, beautiful expression here. It is palpable. In community, and in family, I have learned more about its true meaning than in my entire life. There are residents who have lived here for 50 years, sharing meals, practices, and life experiences. There are also a number of related families here. I am in awe when I see residents my age who work here, alongside their grown children, and even little ones, their grandchildren. True relationship, community, and fellowship reside here. It is something I am beginning to understand like never before. It is my intention to learn, absorb, and incorporate it into my life more and more.
This also happens to ... relate ... to one of the greatest gifts I will take away as I leave at the end of November. I've come to clearly see, under scorching fire, the biggest life lesson that I had yet to learn in 69 years. Life lessons are the ones that keep popping up in our life, knocking us down with increasing force and pain, because we have yet to learn our lesson. Mine came to me with crystal clarity while here. I reference "fire" and "pain," because that's what it often takes for us to have the Aha about the recurring obstacles in our life. I firmly believe, and I am not alone in this, that the true purpose of yoga is not doing poses, but rather self-inquiry. It is not for the faint of heart. But it is the path to heart, and the eternal light that resides in our heart center. As another of my favorite teachers, Indu Arora, has said,
"Yoga is not a feel-good practice. It is a face-the-truth practice."
Thanksgiving approaches as I share these thoughts with you. For this hard as heck to face life lesson, I am eternally grateful. While this life lesson has recurred for me for decades, in different circumstances, locations, and with different people, it can be condensed into a single word. Its antidote? Well, it happens to include ... Relationship.
I am certain that my being at the Himalayan Institute has been the necessary crucible (a loving and nourishing one) for coming to recognize and acknowledge it. It is a painful one to accept. But I could not have more gratitude for it.
I invite you to share a comment about ways in which your yoga practices have also been successful in the grand scheme of your life. Share for yourself, for your relationships.
A tip: don't do the thinking it up. Let it issue forth from, as my friend Tracee Stanley calls it, the whispers of your soul.
UPDATE ON MY KITTIES NEEDING A TEMPORARY FOSTER HOME:
Prana and Yama, my twin four year-old indoor kitties still need a place to live for a little while as I search for a place to live myself. This could be as soon as December 2nd. A kind friend has offered to keep them through February 1st if I don't find anyone else, but please let me know if you, or someone you know, might be able to help. (Another kind friend has offered me a place to stay during December and January).
Here is the information I sent in my last post.
Hi, we are Prana and Yama!
We are twin male indoor-only littermates, four years old. Our person, Barbra Brady, is reaching out to you as changes in her life and living situation leave us, too, looking for a temporary foster home for a few months, beginning December 1, 2023.
A few things about us:
● We are the picture of health, and have lived indoors only. We were neutered at three months old.
● Our personalities are just as cute as our video!
● We are absolutely in love with one another, and have never been separated. We often sleep on top of each other, and love to groom each other.
● We love people, too! We are very socialized, loving, affectionate lap cats (Yama especially so).
● We have been living with an easy going medium sized dog who never bothered us in the least. We have not been introduced to any other dogs, nor any other cats. (Barbra knows a lot about how to introduce a new pet if that may play a factor.)
● Barbra is happy to cover the costs of all food, litter, and any potential vet visits.
● Please contact Barbra for more details. (707) 227-0044, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are waiting for you!