Yoga asks weird things of us. Sometimes the techniques can make you feel a little bit upside-down in a right-side-up world, like Mr. Mittra here on the left. In an effort to convince myself I'm still normal, I'm making a list of bizarre yoga practices I used to feel silly about, but now I do with such lack of self-consciousness, I have almost forgotten that people in the real world don't do them.
- Kali Breath with the tongue sticking out: I used to think this was so goofy and ridiculous. Once I realized how much it helped, it was a slippery slope. Now I have to remind myself not to do it at the grocery store.
- Audible sighing with vocal cords activated: Today in Winifred's class I found myself doing this constantly, and then I remembered that I used to think people were weird who did this. Look who's weird (but detoxified) now!
- Taking a deep breath at all has sometimes provoked concern in coworkers and non-yogi friends: "What's wrong? You sighed! Are you ok?" Yup, just taking in a little extra sweet, sweet oxygen. I'm hooked.
- Wearing tight pants everywhere. If you're a yogi reading this, you're probably thinking--but that's not weird! I do it all the time!--I have to tell you, IT IS NOT THAT NORMAL (unless you live in Boulder). I know this because I took a friend to yoga for the first time and afterwards we went to get coffee and she commented on how embarrassing it was to be wearing yoga pants at the coffee shop. It was a moment of awakening.
- Push-ups with knees on the ground. My push-ups are awkward monstrosities. Until I can finally acquire the kinesthetic intelligence and strength to do them properly, I'm no longer willing to injure myself just to look like a more bad-ass yogi. My knees are on the ground, baby.
- Falling: OK this is still frustrating when it happens. But it happens to everyone, on occasion. So whatever. It's playful to fall, get back in, fall again.
- Softening the forehead, eyes, and jaw. Just try doing that at your next family gathering or staff meeting, and you'll probably realize how unusual it is, how you feel almost vulnerable but hopefully more open. Relaxing my face gives me a sensation of automatically turning off certain patterns and protective mechanisms and it can feel a little scary. It's still difficult in class sometimes to do this, because suddenly you can't escape what you're feeling and you face the moment as it is a little more directly.
- Alternate nostril breathing. This just made me giggle the first time I saw it. It seems so affected and esoteric, and it kind of looks like a waste of time when I could be learning to do a scorpion or something equally impressive. But then I tried it, read about it, and fell in love.
- OM'ing and chanting...it really depends on the teacher. I'm fine with a simple monosyllabic chant. I enjoy a good, centering OM. Not sure I'm ready to put stock into the spiritual benefits of it. But, fairly or unfairly, a Sanskrit chant session automatically activates my inner cult alert faster than any other yoga practice. Some teachers do chants well. I liked chanting to Tara with Scott Blossom at the Crib, for example. Why? Maybe because he was laid-back and not overly bhakti about it. I also loved chanting at a zen sesshin, because the words were in English and meant something to me: "Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them...etc." And we were chanting in the dark, facing a wall, so I felt more like I was chanting alone but together rather than in a group of people all losing themselves to the group.
- Letting the poses look like me rather than how I think they should look (my yogi friends have such beautiful practices and it can be hard not to wish I looked like them in certain poses). This is still a constant practice of course--in a way it IS the whole practice--but it's been so helpful to learn to loosen my grasp on external notions of what a pose should look like and let it look more like me. Loosening the grasp in any area is always a good thing.
Yoga opens me up to so much new knowledge, but never before I am ready. I resist and resist while paradoxically wishing I could just open up all at once, but the yoga just laughs at me and says, just wait and see. Just wait and see.