My most recent attempt to rejoin the Fellowship of the Track Ring came to an abrupt end last week. My irreparably damaged hamstring did not care that I downloaded the Couch-to-5k app and made my return to running Facebook-official. I thought a person had to be dead before rigor mortis set in, but apparently, it’s a thing.
Thankfully, there’s yoga. I’ve been practicing for a few years now and am currently in an intensive training program to become RYT200 certified (Registered Yoga Teacher with 200 training hours). Like training for a marathon, the process is challenging, life-changing, exhausting and rewarding. Missing are the crowds, the accolades, the adrenaline highs and the porta potty lines.
But what about competition, friendly or sabertoothed? Westerners like our rivalries, whether it’s Red Rover or Red Sox or Red States, we are wired to compete. When we enter a yoga studio, many of us have a hard time shutting off the mental Applause-o-Meter. We compare our poses, our stillness, our workout apparel, everything. Inevitably, there’s always someone in the room more flexible, more zen-like, more enlightened. If the instructor doesn’t redirect that negative energy, what’s supposed to be a restoring, grounding experience turns into Downward Dog-Eat-Dog. We leave feeling discouraged, and sadly, many never try another class.
Should yoga — the ancient discipline of mind, body and soul — emphasize performance? It didn’t start out that way. Yoga’s been around for about 4000 years. The original purpose was to achieve a higher state of consciousness and connection with the Ultimate Reality (‘yoga’ means union). But since arriving in the U.S. at the turn of the last century, the traditional practice morphed into a trendy physical fitness routine.
And here’s the thing: What we call ‘yoga’ is really just one of the eight limbs, or steps, of Ashtanga Yoga. The other limbs aren’t nearly as showy (or profitable). Practices like right action, compassion, self-restraint, proper breathing techniques, and meditation aren’t exactly crowd pleasers. Still, they are essential components to developing an enlightened, harmonious relationship with the earth and everything in it. But they get lost in our quest for the best. Such benign behaviors aren’t nearly as seductive as the pose-only “Bikini-Body Yoga Workouts”, “Fat-Blasting Yoga Routines”, “Anti-Aging Face Yoga Tricks” and — I kid you not — “5 Yoga Poses to get Jennifer Aniston’s Body”. (Seriously. That’s on WebMD.)
Yoga, like running, can take you down a rabbit hole, which is, ironically, how I injured my hamstring in the first place. (Oh, Universe, you crack me up.) When I first began my running journey, it was all about fitness. When I first began my yoga journey, it was all about flexibility. Fortunately, in both cases, I stuck around long enough to experience the subtle, internal changes taking place inside my mind and soul. It was nothing I expected, but everything I needed. My running career may have reached its end, but the journey continues, ever onward. Namaste, friends.