Thursday, August 14, 2008

All Paths Are One

The only forms of exercise I know anything about are walking and yoga.

But thankfully, through years of practice, I know rather a lot about both.

In fact, when I first considered starting a blog, I could hardly decide which of my dearest interests - fashion or yoga - would make the best subject. I went with fashion by determining that it's more democratic. Not everyone does yoga (and when (s)he does, it's not necessarily at a masterclass level). Everyone, however, wears clothes and is thereby invested, pun intended. So it won on that basis. But I'm as passionate about yoga as I am about style. Lucky y'all. :-)

I find myself in the dubious position of writing first about yoga to a great group of fashion lovers who perhaps care nothing about it, go figure. And in as much as it's relevant to this theme week, I'm here to discuss it solely as a method of fitness. Now let me explain. Yoga - while it can kick your ass into gorgeous submission - is not an art and science dedicated to the ridging of your abs.

We who "do" yoga in a serious way, practice an ancient system devised to bring about meditative (actually post-meditative, but let's not get bogged down) consciousness. The road to consciousness begins in the body, this shell we inhabit and, as such, must master - or at least befriend! How can one meditate for hours at a time if one's body is impinged upon by inflexibility, weakness or misalignment?

OK, that's well and good, but isn't the universe a fine place, that we can shoot for consciousness and find fitness all at the same time? And beauty, I might add. Cuz a fit body is a strong, symmetrical and healthy one. And strength and health are very lovely.

I'm going to speak in broad terms about yoga as a method of fitness because, I imagine, this is the context in which it will appeal to the widest audience. If you'd like to chat metaphysics :-), I'm more than happy to engage, however. You know the drill: Pls. just email and we'll take it from there.

I've been practicing Iyengar yoga for 20 years, and have been certified to teach for about 15. I taught for over a decade, although (by strictest rules) one is not encouraged to train to teach the method until one is in one's thirties (the idea being that one isn't really mature enough to embrace the more punishing transformative elements of the two-year teacher training program until early middle age). In hindsight, I'm inclined to agree. Though I'm truly grateful for the path that brought me yoga - and teaching - wacky time lines notwithstanding.

For what it's worth, at eighteen, I had one of those unlikely, meditative, alchemical experiences during my very first class. One which, on the one hand, motivated me to continue learning forever but which, on the other, was not repeated by a long shot for many years to come. By now though, I think you get it. When I'm in, I'm in. Long haul be damned.

The Iyengar method, the one in which I was trained, and which I did exclusively for many years, is not the only method I know something about. I've also done a lot of Ashtanga (which is much better represented on wikipedia than Iyengar, I'm intrigued to note), some Bikram and many hybrid methods (style mashups that the Iyengar camp tends to mistrust).

Of course, in as much as one can find peace and alignment with the Iyengar method, all yogas are one. So by all means, do whichever appeals. But, if you're thinking about starting up and you want to know my thoughts about what's best to try, I strongly advise Iyengar because it's all about fostering alignment (through the use of props and very specific teaching) and anatomical awareness before you get into all the pretzely stuff.

And while you might be after yoga simply cuz you want to do the pretzely stuff, it's actually rather dangerous to fall into an extremely complex system of movement as if you are an advanced practitioner if you are, in fact, a beginner. If you happen to have spent years in dance training then, by all means, lead with Ashtanga if that's what flips your switch. But if you are too stiff to touch your toes for 5 minutes with pin straight legs and a long spine, not yet strong enough to jump from push up to push up for up to 20 minutes at a go, or unable to balance on your head, you might want to start with another school and progress. Oh, and BTW, the Iyengar system teaches all the same 87,000 poses - so you get your soooooper challenging / pretzel quotient - you just learn in a more progressive, and I feel safer, format.

Now's as good a time as any to say that I believe all systems of exercise can be meditative, and at their best they are. If you do Pilates or kick boxing or walking to get to and from work, you are as entitled to - and capable of, natch - finding the consciousness most often referenced by yogis. (So, maybe, spinning is your bliss of choice. In the same way I can find buffness with my yoga practice, spinner gals can find the meditation in their ass-kicking classes. Esp. if they learn with Enc!)

Please stay tuned for one more post about why I exercise - why we all should - coming up demain!


  1. Thank you for posting on yoga. My sister has been a practitioner on and off since she was a teenager. She just recently started up again and is looking very good/healthy. I have always wanted to incorporate yoga into my lifestyle. Are there any "beginner" books or videos you recommend to dip my toe in the water?
    Thank you so much.

  2. i try to practice yoga twice a week. it's does a great deal to calm my always busy mind and body.

  3. I would looooove to practice yoga. But I fear that I might pass out in one of those meditative moments (apparently I don't like to lose control). Does that happen?!?

  4. OMG I also would love to practice yoga. I think it's a great way of balance. And with my Reiki it would be great.
    I think a lot of that, because I'm very much always stressed and sometimes Reiki hardly balances me.
    But I wouldn't know how to start.

    Thanks for calling my attention to this.


  5. Tessa, nice to hear from you. I'm thrilled you're looking for more yoga info. Of course, I can email you a rec. of books/videos but, let me suggest this: If you have any access at all to certified yoga (of some sort, if not Iyengar) in your community and you have a bit of money and time, I would so recommend that you attend class - at least for 10 weeks to learn the basics. Reason is that, when one begins yoga, one really doesn't have any way to tell if (s)he's approaching the poses with good alignment / developing flexibility and strength in equal measures. Let's take this to email (send me a quickie with your address and I'll respond to it with more info).

    Savvy: Glad to know another yogini! What type do you practice?

    Miss C: There's sometimes a fine line between meditation and sleep or unconsciousness :-) Esp. for the busy moms! I don't think you need to worry about it, though. The blissed out moments tend to come as we develop the ability to submit to relaxation. It's not like the relaxation just grabs you and takes away your control. It's a relationship-building thing. Oh, and when you're learning yoga, at the beginning, it takes so much concentration that you must be super focused. (Something I'm sure you excel at.) For you, Iyengar is de rigeur. It's the control freak's favourite brand. (Joking, but serious.)

    Seeker: I love Reiki! Haven't had it in years. Yoga may help you to find a teacher in your area. They do an annual directory. I think you may live in quite a remote spot, yes? But if you're in a large city (or even a small one) I think you could find a good class. Then, all you need to do is give it a chance (like you did with Reiki!)

  6. It is true that spinning can be meditative. I've been able to go into a zone during long drills. I've been able to completely change my mindset during a class. Physical activity is completely connected to the mind.

    Any fitness activity can be meditative if you want it to be.

    Oh, how I wish I wanted to do yoga. I could really use it, because I'm that person who can't touch her toes. At all.

    I'm too frenetic to really be able to relax in a yoga class—I've told you this. My mind races the whole time. The worst part is the last phase of the class, where you lie down, and they play that awful, creepy, horror-movie music. It makes me think some zombie is coming to eat my head. That alone is enough to send me screaming from the room!

    How's this comment for a vibe spoiler! ;)

  7. I've gotta hop on enc's train and say that I don't feel wired for yoga. If I'm going to exercise, I want loud music and lactic acid burning my muscles. But I SO admire anyone who practices yoga, especially because I can see how creating a connection between emotional serenity and body would be beneficial overall.

    And if you've dealt with anxiety issues, K, then I admire you all the more. Nothing gets my anxiety whirling around like an hour of gently-directed class during which I can think, think, think ...

  8. Enc: You are hilarious! You know, not all methods play creepy music. Iyengar doesn't believe in music, creepy or otherwise. He feels it distracts from the focus. And, while I so hear you about the freneticism that makes you feel you are not a good candidate for yoga (and who am I to argue), I promise you could not hope to meet a more frenetic person than me :-) I mean, I practically redefine the term. Remember, I was doing lots of yoga while falling apart from life-induced stressors. Point is, I found a style of yoga that could speak to my natural disposition.

    In class, at first, I was so engaged by trying to find the slightest consciousness in my kneecap or shoulder blade or inner groin, I couldn't hope to cling to my spinning mind. And now, as a more advanced practitioner, I still need to call attention to the physical structure as a means to attaining complex postures which (because they address the nervous and endocrine systems, mainly) categorically turn off the racing mind.

    Sal: Check out that insanely long response to E for my feelings about how yoga can short-circuit anxiety. Trust me, I'm not the kind of person you'd associate with mellowness. Not all yoga fits that stereotype - not by a long shot. Really, I promise :-)