Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Community of Practice

I don't often speak about yoga on this blog, or about my own practice and experience of it. Nonetheless, yoga has had an immense influence on me since I was 18 years old. Amazingly, that means I've been practicing - with various levels of commitment - for more than half my life. You may know that I'm an Iyengar-certified instructor, who taught for a number of years. While I've studied a variety of styles (ashtanga, hybrid methods), the Iyengar system is the one I carry around with me. I do everything with its philosophy in mind. The methodology is about alignment and focus, above all. You can see why that might appeal to me. I've written about this before, btw...

Yoga, in my twenties, occupied the passion that sewing appears to, in my forties. Don't misunderstand: It continues to be the backbone (sorry for the pun) of my mental health and mind-body awareness. It's the first art form that taught me about the human body, about symmetry, about turning the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional.

Physical and mental alchemy - the outcome of one's yoga - are amongst the most profound experiences I've encountered. Yoga taught me that everything is the same thing, which - of course - can be a charm or a chain.

I remember when my former teacher, a woman who was in her 50s when I was in my early 20s, would speak about how one's practice develops over the decades. How refinement - not perfection - is the watchword of one's daily routine. She, of course, was a perfectionist, as many Iyengar devotees happen to be.

(I've never been one to shun perfection, or its pursuit. I search it out like the holy grail, and it eludes me, as it must. But that's the subject of another post I've been mulling over...)

I've done yoga as a teenager (with suppleness, but naivete), as a young woman (it kept me sane), as a mother-to-be (now that was interesting), as a new mother (it didn't keep me sane, I was beyond sanity at that point), as a careerist in pursuit of balance (my current role, I suppose). I've watched my body change innumerable times. I've seen my strength ebb and flow. I've worked my ass off, polishing the gem of self-awareness and ability, only to see it cloud up again. But I start over.

Wow, how utterly self-involved this post has become! Really, I just want to let you know about a good Yoga Journal home practice resource in mag stores now. I've been tinkering with its contents (note: the bias of this issue is Iyengar - which is v. intelligent, IMO, given the opportunities for self-injury in any yoga practice, especially those done without the guidance that a class environment provides) and the sequences are enjoyable, well-constructed and malleable for different experience levels.

I don't encourage anyone to begin yoga without a teacher. Whatever you learn, chances are you'll do it better with an informed guide. However, for the continuing student, a home practice is the next step - and the best step. Once you've got your own thing going, you can take it anywhere. The practice ceases to be something you do only in the context of others, of instruction, and becomes your own art, uniquely tailored to you at any moment. Yes, there are numerous snags on the path, but no time like the present, yes?

So, let's talk yoga. Have you seen the issue? Do you have a home practice? Do you practice in a studio setting? Do you loathe yoga - I know you folks are out there! (I frequently loathe yoga while I'm trapped in the moment :-)) Do share.


  1. I feel too impatient and vigorous for yoga myself, but maybe that's a good reason to explore it!

  2. my hubby is the yoga king. he's been doing it for about 10 years. i've really tried to get into it, especially the last 7 months (hoping it would ease some pregnancy discomfort). I've concluded that i'm not capable to be quiet enough to do yoga :(

  3. It's never appealed to me. Possibly because of all the Hollywood psychos who tell me yoga makes them great people. God knows how psychotic they would be if they didn't do it, I guess. Maybe it IS helping.

  4. from time to time i do a bit of yoga, but i just cannot stand doing any sort of exercise at a gym or studio -- group activity mortifies me most times. i am sure i am missing out! i've been a bit down and depressed and slouchy the last day or two. maybe yoga would help. it sure wouldn't hurt! so thank you for the reminder of how good yoga is for us!

  5. I haven't done yoga either and am rather self conscous about trying in a group setting, just because I have my own movement issues. I have several friends who are devotees though. Maybe someday.

  6. Totally love yoga. I've also practised off and on for about 20 years, but committed now. I was going to a great class for a while, then when it shut down, I was doing home practice, but eventually called up my teacher and now I have a one-on-one with her once a week, plus try to fit in at least another four sessions myself. Iyengar all the way. It is one of the only things I do for myself, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

  7. I am a Kundilini yoga gal. I haven't done it for awhile but when I do I love it.

  8. I love Vinyasa and practice at a studio. It's definitely helping with sanity and developing muscles that usually hide (triceps, I'm talking to you). Other than that, I just love the feeling of breath being sent to different parts of my body.

  9. I love that idea of practicing and developing a practice over time. When I first began my (Ashtanga) yoga practice, it was a huge mental reboot for me. It centered me and made me think about my body and my self very differently. It remains very important to me, though very different from what it was to me.

    But you have me thinking seriously about Iyengar yoga. With this recent injury, it feels like it would be more appropriate for me right now. I love, too, how reapproaching yoga from a different perspective makes it all feel new and fresh again. Thank you for this post (and for your helpful and kind comment on my blog).

  10. i absolutely love yoga, and don't currently have enough of it in my life.
    i just moved and have a largish room devoid of furniture (but currently full of boxes), that i plan to dedicate to my yoga soon as i get finished unpacking all those boxes!

  11. Sal: I love how you say you are "vigorous". What a great quality. I do think that yoga can exercise that vigor, for what it's worth. It's a misconception that yoga is all about relaxation.

    ReRe: Starting anything in pregnancy is a challenge, IMO. Esp. fitness - the increased relaxin in your system can play havoc with stability.

    Wendy: That is truly a scary thought.

    J: It's a great commitment for your 41st year!

    Mardel: Sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right class environment. Have you thought of getting a private teacher for a few weeks, to teach you the basics and build confidence?

    Tiffany: Love that! What a commitment you have.

    Bel: Why doesn't that surprise me :-) (The kundalini part, not the not-doing it part...)

    Ann: I hear you!

    Sara: Look around. Yoga Journal has some great Iyengar resources. And just email with any questions.

    Style Odyssey: Nothing better than an empty room! My "sewga" room (combo sewing and yoga) used to be entirely empty but for props, then sewing came along and it's messing with my minimalism :-)

  12. I've been practicing yoga for the past 7 years. We have a very strong program at the YMCA I belong to so it also very low cost.

    Over the years I have had long periods where I adopted one or more regulare exercise routines. It was swimming in my 20's, bicycling and karate for a long stretch with some running and weights. There were also long periods where hiking was the routine. Yoga has now become my central form of exercise.

    I think that people often go through these kinds of shifts by virtue of interest and physical capabilities. I think that for now, in my fifties, yoga is something that can carry my into my seventies. Maybe it will, but if the pattern holds I will either drop it and adopt something else, or continue with it. Que sera, sera.

  13. D.: Love hearing your yoga story. I'm sure it will serve you well for as long as you want!