I unfurl my sticky mat for the thousandth time – or how many times has it been? The conservative estimate of twice a week, multiplied by the 18 years I have been practicing yoga, suggests this morning is my 1,872nd yoga class, without counting all those times I practiced on my own or just sat quietly on my mat to dispel sadness or anxiety. It’s a lot of down dogs since that January 1, 1996 when I wandered into a free meditation class and was hooked.
My relationship to yoga has changed over time: it started with the wonder of discovering muscles previously untouched by my other workouts and a general sense of well-being. It deepened with the study of the classical texts and, after a few years, the decision to train as a teacher. I developed along with the practice and marketing of the discipline over the last 20 years; what started as a draw for devotees and granola types, it has now reached every gym in every corner of America, where people clad in Lululemon or ancient sweatpants mainly try to stay in shape. Some yoga instructors have gone on to create empires filled with dvds, name brand studios, exotic retreats and the likes and I have run the gamut of this evolution.
I have practiced in glitzy studios, shoulder to shoulder with models and celebrities, and in total isolation in the sweltering Costa Rican heat. I have tried every style and adapted and bent to the needs of my slightly older body. I have approached the practice with a sense of wonder and mystery and then distanced myself from the devotional side to launch my bones into fast paced and increasingly complicated routines. When times were tough, a class that challenged my limits made me sweat out anger and fear. Times of sadness led me to restorative practices in which hardly a muscle moved. Somewhere in between, I got tired of the om’s and the Sanskrit chants and sought only teachers that would deliver fun routines.
As I unfurl my mat for the 1,872nd time, or thereabout, and I lie quietly waiting for the teacher to start, I realize that yoga has been a steady companion for a large chunk of my life. These days, I practice at home or at the small and unpretentious studio close to where I live, where students don’t feel the need to wear glitzy workout attires and don’t check each other abs and butts out. I know the excellent and dedicated teachers and most of my fellow practitioners and, when a new face shows up, we welcome them warmly.
I don’t try to sell yoga to anyone anymore. Unless I am asked, I don’t try to explain it. To keep myself in shape, I veer towards different forms of exercise – yoga has become more of an ingrained habit that, in tune with my needs, helps me center, focus or relax. It forces me to go in without having to try. I unfurl my mat, place all my crap on it and then, in the space of 90 minutes, I try to sort it all out by not thinking about it at all. There is no mystique or mystery – not even a sense of wonder anymore. It just is. I don’t judge myself any longer if my nose doesn’t touch my knee the way it used to or if I don’t feel like standing on my head. Slowly, that lack of judgement has seeped into other areas of my life. I am far from enlightenment but closer to me. And that is all the enlightenment I need. In this life, anyway.