(Note: this article is a repost and was originally published last year.)
There is a yoga class in my neck of the woods that fills up daily. Loud, sexy music pulses while the (mostly) female participants sweat and stretch into the process of doing Yoga. I hadn't been to this class in years, having birthed three babies and not having the space in my day for a two-hour excursion (drive time included) away from my family.
My children are all in school now, so a dear friend and I made a plan to meet at the class. Once I was there, I settled onto my mat, excited for this most decadent luxury. Soon my heart began to sink: the energy in the room was frenetic. The music I had remembered as soulful and sensual was replaced with a jarring beat, people were talking, and what I had remembered as a sacred experience felt chaotic. I became deeply aware of a feeling of depletion in the room, and nowhere was the juiciness or softness I crave in my Yoga practice. All around me were women so thin I could only imagine the measures with which this had been attained. A hard frequency hovered in the room and permeated the bodies, the music, the space. I worked extra hard to relax into myself for my practice.
I used to be that woman, I thought. I was the one living on coffee and salad. Images of my dear friend in Vancouver, living out her last days, occupied my heart. Frail and so thin she was, as cancer took its toll on her beautiful being. I remembered how she often shared her desire to be thinner, usually shared as a joke, but I knew it was an ache at times. She was a beautiful woman with a full face and stunning blue eyes. In her final days, the dis-ease had given her cheekbones and not one bit of fat on her sweet body. How many of us go through our lives wanting to be thinner? Looking around at these women in this class, I wanted to tell them all about my dear friend. I wanted to tell them that they were beautiful and ask them if they felt nourished. I wanted to invite them to my home for the little yoga class I teach in my living room, where we chant and sing and eat mung beans and rice and drink tea together.
I worked on letting go of the expectations I had about this experience and knowing I was very sensitive riding the roller coaster of emotions when someone we love is dying.Things aren't always the way we remember them to be, I thought; I've grown and changed and shifted over the years, and so what I find resonant has also shifted. I knew there was something for me to learn in this moment, and so I also let go of the judgment that gripped me as the studio filled up with more people and the frenetic frequency continued to grow.
I surrendered to what was. I closed my eyes, gave thanks for my strong, soft body, and I gave thanks for my family and all that I receive in BEING with them. I gave thanks for the friendship I had with my friend in Vancouver and all the love we had shared over the years. I struggled with wishing I was by her side holding her hand. I gave thanks for having two hours to be at the class, and finally, I let go of wishing I was somewhere else.
At the shavasana—relaxation—time in the class, the teacher played Snatam Kaur's rendition of, May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You. This song, sung at the end of every Kundalini Yoga class, is the first thing I sang to each of my children as they slipped into my arms on their birth day. As the music played I wept. I wept for my friend, for me, for all the women in the class. I wept for mother earth and the pain I knew she felt at that lack of nourishment in this world that has so much beauty to offer.
After the class I sat with my experience and reflected. I asked myself: What gave me such a strong reaction to the space? Why did it feel so uninspiring to me? Was it my sensitivity at this time?
Then it came to me. I realized that going to yoga to get a better body is not enough for me anymore.
What is a better body anyway? What does that even mean? What kind of goal is that, really? I do Yoga to clear my mind, to open my heart and to breathe. When I have a consistent yoga practice, my life works. The chatter in my mind dissipates, I feel calm and my intuition is clear. I do Yoga to bring peace and strength to my life. The experience of my yoga practice eased the loss I felt as my friend slipped to the other side. Yoga, meditation and mantra gave me solace in the night as I panicked at the thought of her leaving this earth plane. My practice gave me the strength to keep up.
I study and teach Kundalini yoga and I recently came across this quote in my teachers manual. “If its not devotional it's not yoga, it is just exercise.”
This rings true to me on a deep level. For me, Yoga is not just exercise or a vehicle to beauty. It is a practice, a way to unify my breath with my body and my spirit with my self. Yoga, meditation and mantra is the prescription I use when things get tough. The medicine I take daily to live my life free from fear.
Here is what I crave:
- To bring a sense of devotion to my postures.
- To bring that devotion to the time that I carve out for Yoga.
- Devotion to my body (that has given me so much).
- To honor myself
- To connect with (my) self
- To NOURISH (my) self.
- To connect to the divine: the divine teachers who have come before me.
- To trust the process of life.
- To open my heart when I am afraid.
Without devotion in a Yoga practice, it becomes just exercise. Through this experience, I realized that it was not the duty of the teacher or the class to bring devotion to me. It was not the job of the other women in the class, nor was it the job of the music. Only I can bring devotion to my practice; only I know what that looks like and feels like for me. My practice, my devotion.
I miss my friend. She taught me about generosity and love. On this day in this yoga class I felt her spirit, her true beauty soul.
I want to bring that Yoga-devotion to everything I do. The dedication, the time for practice, the expanded breath, the love. I want to bring that devotion to my friendships over tea- at the births of their babies, and at their deaths. Devotion inspires me. Devotion gives me a sacred connection to my soul.Through Yoga, I can remember devotion and what it feels like in my body and in my cells. In this way, I will always be able to access it, and cultivate it, and nourish it—and then, in return … it will nourish me.
With gratitude and love,
photos by Denise Andrade-Kroon