Perhaps you, like so many other Americans, decided this would be the year you begin practicing yoga regularly. You researched the yoga studios closest to your home and workplace. You bought a new mat. Maybe you even ventured into one of those high end yoga clothes boutiques and bought yourself a $100 pair of stretchy pants to generate even more incentive to get your expensively clad butt to a yoga class several times a week in the new year. Your ambition and resolve to stick to your New Year’s resolution this year overpowered your self-doubt and inhibitions as you marched yourself into the yoga studio with the best introductory package and least distance from home or work. You signed the new student waiver, entered the studio, grabbed your props, and plopped down on your mat. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Nope. Totally doable 3-5 times a week. This is gonna be the year. And then, class starts.
Yoga is supposed to be easy. Isn’t it? Why are you sweating profusely within the first ten minutes of class? Why is every muscle in your body, including those you didn’t even know existed, shaking? What is happening? Did you really sign up for this? You said you wanted to get in shape, but you didn’t think it would be quite this hard. The teacher reassures you it will get easier and you continue to resolve that this will be the year you get in shape. You also spent $100 on yoga pants so you should probably get as much use out of those stupid things as possible.
You keep going back to class, and, sure enough, it gets easier. Your muscles start to remember the shapes of the poses. You start to actually hear what the teacher is saying, which is mostly about breathing, which you thought was automatic, but apparently is not. You also begin to notice things about yourself that you don’t like so much. You’re judgmental, mean, critical, and your mind keeps replaying that stupid conversation you had earlier in the day no matter how many times the teacher tells you to focus on the present moment. However, you’re getting stronger, you can see some muscle definition in your arms. You’re getting more flexible; you can bend down to touch your toes without every muscle in your body screaming at you to, “STOP!” Maybe if you just focus on the physical benefits of practicing yoga regularly you can drown out all that other stuff. Plus, you do feel calmer after class, you are sleeping better, and your frustration tolerance has increased.
Yoga means to unite. It is the act of uniting ourselves with our highest natures. In order to unite with our highest selves we must clear away all the cobwebs and dust bunnies – all of the stuff that we don’t like so much, the stuff that causes us to act like insensitive jerks, the stuff that causes us to be unkind to ourselves and those we love, the stuff that distracts us from tapping into the divine that lives in all of us. Sticking to a resolution of practicing yoga means coming face to face with all of your inner demons. You’re going to come across all of this stuff over and over again as you practice yoga. It is going to be uncomfortable, ugly, and messy. Oh yeah, you’ll finally be able to hold downward dog for more than three breaths without breaking a sweat and you can touch your toes without hating life (and the teacher making you touch your stupid toes in the first place). Your body will be slimmer and your muscles will be stronger.
So if you happen to be one of the thousands of people who decided this would be the year you developed a regular yoga practice, I commend you. I also encourage you to stick with it. In, The Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar gives another meaning for yoga, “to attain what was previously unattainable.” As hard as it may be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, you can do it. We cannot attain what was previously unattainable by remaining the same. Yoga will bring you face to face with all of the things you don’t particularly love about yourself, the things you want to change. Yoga will also show you how strong, resilient, compassionate, and capable you are. You will discover depths of love and beauty that you never knew resided within your less than perfect human frame. It will not be an easy journey, but the rewards far outweigh the pain and struggle you will encounter. Plus, you’ll realize you do not need $100 pants to feel beautiful or practice yoga.