The director at the charity where I work wanted to know what I’d be doing on my upcoming vacation. I told her that I was going on a yoga retreat. “What kind of yoga do you do?” she asked.
“It’s just basic Hatha Yoga,” I said. “I started before they started giving it different names.”
That was in 1970, the same year that I started meditation. I was 16. (My mother was actually introduced to yoga years earlier when Swami Vishnudevananda gave a talk to her synagogue sisterhood.)
Saying the above obviously gives me serious yoga cred, having started long before yoga became the societal phenomenon it has become in the last 10 years or so. But, for the sake of honesty, while I will put myself in the intermediate classes next week during my stay at the Kripalu Yoga Center, situated in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, I admit that I will be far, far less competent than most of the others there.
It’s a little like working out with weights. It will soon be two years that I’ve gone regularly to the gym but my regimen is so light you would hardly notice it in my physique. Anyone seriously interested in putting on muscle mass, which I am not, would have quickly surpassed my humble gains in much less time. Still, I’m happy with my progress there, being able to lift heavier and heavier weights and run or step further and further and faster.
When it comes to yoga, as contrasted from when I take a class, my daily practice is to help prepare myself for meditation; I mostly stretch my hamstrings and back and do some spinal twists, downward dogs and cobras for twenty minutes or so before settling into pranayama breathing and finally, meditation.
So, I might have impressed my boss (or I impressed myself with my answer to her question) but it was not deserved.
Every morning I dutifully stretch my hamstrings but they inevitably tighten up during the night and I have to start all over the next day. And the next. And the next month and the next year. There’s never been any progress. I even moved up to using a tight rubber belt to pull my feet closer to me. I don’t mind too much being so tight (well, I do and I’m just used to it being this way) as long as I’m more limber going into meditation.
I have two apprehensions as the vacation approaches.
One is that I will have too many (one is too many) chatty yoga instructors, talking incessantly either about the need to discover one’s inner silence or “be in the moment” (I would if you’d just shut up!) and the second is that they’ll spend a lot of time on the balancing positions.
I don’t know if it’s my flat feet or if I just haven’t developed certain muscles “down there”, but ask me to balance on one foot, even if the other is less than an inch off the ground, and I will toddle and topple and middle and moddle all over the floor. Don’t be too close to me! I just might topple right over you. It’s crazy.
And I feel stupid, particularly when the instructor is intimating that being able to balance nicely and tightly there with one leg either high up on your thigh or being held behind you with one hand while the other is way, way up in front of you, is akin to being Enlightened.
“Oh, yes,” she’ll say, “feel your groundedness, your center. You are the tree. You are rooted in the earth.”
Say, can I be grounded with both my feet on the earth? Can I feel rooted to Mother Earth with both feet on the ground?
I feel a crisis coming and I’m still two full days away from arriving at Kripalu.
Otherwise, I am looking forward to some real yoga, not what I do every morning, and have done so for the past, oh, 45 years. The yoga that you do in class for 60-90 minutes is not a preparation for meditation, it’s a real workout these days. You’re not just there for the stretching, there’s tons of muscle work being done; you will feel quite toned after a few days if you’ve really put in the effort.
And unlike a workout at the gym, there is a lot of mental silence and a very pleasant physical flow feeling created that you concretely feel afterwards, even if the instructor has talked her head off for the whole class. It’s the asanas, stupid, and they do do the trick.