Friday, February 5, 2010

Hand-in-Hand: Sweet Revelations

My posts seem to have an, "Oh Yoga, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways" theme to them. Oh well, here goes another ;-)

One thing I love about practicing Bikram yoga is its lack of artifice. There are no candles, no tranquil music, no teacher telling you to "love your body." Yet, you leave the class calm and connected, and you are able to respect your body more than you ever thought possible. Alright, well, I think Westerners always need to work on being truly OK with their bodies, but that's an entirely different post! I digress.

Occasionally, I get a little into myself. I love the technicality of the dialogue. I love being told exactly what the posture is doing for me. It's taught me to be more aware of the body as a functioning whole and less a composition of parts. It used to be, "UGH, those love-handles! The butt ain't bad, but the inner thighs? Girl, ease up on the Trader Joe's-brand Ritz Bitz!"

Now, it's more like, "YES! Standing forward bend is increasing the blood flow to my legs and calves! Hell yes for good circulation! Elongating and stretching the spine forward safely, unlike what I do the rest of my day!" I just appreciate the attention given to each part of the body, especially to the parts ignored by the media and superficial pop culture. (Imagine: we commend Beyonce for her marvellous lung capacity and lovely posture instead of her bodacious booty.)

Just often enough, though, my main teacher will throw a few philosophical tidbits in for good measure. I love that--they balance out that focus on myself and the attention to the body for a few precious seconds. One of the nuggets of wisdom she occasionally tosses to us hungry masses is that you can't do yoga only for yourself. It's not enough that you're improving your circulation, your kidney function, to trim your waistline. We do this yoga so that we can better serve others.

The first couple of times I heard this, I didn't understand. Yoga was my break from the world, my time to honor myself (albeit in an often painful way). How does one reconcile this?

Just once or twice, I heard my teacher encourage the class to dedicate our practice to someone. In moments where we struggle, we are to bring that person to mind to draw strength from. I don't think she meant it in a cheesy, "think of the dying people in Haiti!" kind of way. I think it's more like that "love your neighbor as yourself" saying." Americans obsess on the "you must love yourself" part of that expression. Yes, you must honor yourself before you can honor your neighbors, your friends. But you can't have the one without the other. Without loving others, the honor or respect we give ourselves is just... empty. Arrogant. I think. Can you tell I'm reaching here? 

Sorry if that's a little out there. I felt like I wanted to talk about it, though, and to hear what folks have to say!

I continue to struggle to make it through the class without sitting out three or four sets of the postures. But today, after attempting to do two sets of Camel simply kicked my butt, I thought of my dear friend I'd dedicated my practice to and managed to slog through the rest of the class. The Self and the Other, they go hand in hand. There's no real separation.

No candles, chanting, or incense. Lots of hard work, sweat, and sweet revelations.

Happy Friday!


bikramyogachick said...

I do believe we are of no use to others if we are not taking care of ourselves. Bikram yoga has been the most effective way I've found of taking care of myself! Then, from there, from that solid base, I can improve on being a better mother, boss, friend, and hopefully someday romantic partner!

thedancingj said...

No, I mean yes, I know EXACTLY what you mean. I've touched on it a bit in my writing, but I think it's at the core of everything we do. I like Rajashree's metaphor of the oxygen mask on the airplane. If the plane goes down, you HAVE to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you can take care of anyone else. The yoga is the same; you absolutely HAVE to take care of yourself, literally give yourself oxygen, so that when you go into the world you are able to take care of the people around you - friends, family, partners, employees, students, all of them.

Also, it's not an abstract philosophical woo-woo kind of thing to me. It's very real and very practical. Which I think is cool.

YOU would REALLY enjoy reading "How Yoga Works" right about now. It talks about this idea in the very beginning chapters: that you can do yoga for yourself for a while, but in the long run, that's not POWERFUL enough. You HAVE to do it for others. And it explains why. You'd love it.

My teacher always said that you have to fall in love with yourself so that you can be an example to others as they search for the way to love themselves...

And with that, I think I've just written an entire blog post in your comments, so I'll stop. :-)

Sisya said...

I think you said it quite nicely, there's no real separation. I really like, "The Self and the Other, they go hand in hand." So true.

Yolk E said...

Yeah! I dig the foundation idea, Bikram Chic :-)

Thanks for your comments! J, I actually bought the book about a month ago. I have been meaning to email you about it!

lz said...

"But you can't have the one without the other. Without loving others, the honor or respect we give ourselves is just... empty."
So well stated. Loving ourselves and loving others are both crucial. It's just about finding that balance between the two.