“You should do yoga”
Yoga is awesome. I love it. It would be hard to capture all of the positive ways that yoga has impacted my life. Come to think of it, it would be hard to find an aspect of my life that isn’t better as a result of practicing yoga. And, the benefits of my practice continue to unfold. Yoga just seems to get more awesome with time.
And there is science to back that up: I recently read a paper written by my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Lindsay Reoch, in which she mentions a study that “compared experienced yoga practitioners (5 years or more experience) with beginner practitioners (1-5 years experience). [The researchers] found that the experienced practitioners scored significantly higher on mindfulness levels and significantly lower on stress levels than the beginner practitioners, suggesting that the longer one practices yoga, the more benefits will be received.”
A life-changing practice that gets better with time. What to do I do with that?
Hmmm. How about tell everyone I know, “You should do yoga!”
Yoga and your family
It can be frustrating for devoted yoga practitioners when our loved ones are not interested in practicing yoga. We want to share the wealth of the practice; we want our loved ones to feel the ways the practice has helped us to feel. But it often doesn’t go well when we try to convince other people to do yoga. In a course I took with Judith Lasater, she counselled everyone in the room: “Avoid at all costs looking at your loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga.”
But that is not always easy to do when the lack of yoga is so obvious: the back pain, the inflexibility, the anxiety, the stress levels, the chronic pain, the self-criticism, the muscular imbalance, the patterns of compensation, the shallow chest breathing, the catastrophic thinking, the insomnia, and the low levels of body awareness.
How can I see the people I love struggling in these ways without trying to share with them the tools that have helped me?
Be the change
The wisdom of Gandhi does not need rephrasing: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
There is no evangelical component to the practice of yoga. Nowhere in the teachings (that I am aware of, at least) does it say, “Encourage other people to do yoga.” Yoga is about your relationship with yourself, and about how you conduct yourself in the world around you. Classically, yoga was only taught to people who sought to learn it.
I experienced this style of teaching when I was in India studying with Yogi Vishvketu. There were times where he would only speak if people asked him questions. He would not prepare what to teach us in advance or proceed to lecture for a predefined amount of time. He simply spoke about things when people asked about them. If no one asked any questions – if no one asked to learn – he would not teach.
If your loved ones don’t want to do yoga, it is an opportunity for you to do yoga. Ask yourself: what is going on for you when you want other people to do yoga? For me, it is often a combination of love, fear, and frustration.
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I think it would also be fair to say that most of us spend a fair bit of time thinking about how other people should change and less time exploring the possibility of changing ourselves. Instead of pushing someone else to do yoga, my yoga practice is about honouring and attending to the emotions that are inspiring me to push.
I should do yoga
I get excited about yoga. I believe the practice has the ability to bring profound levels of peace and well-being to the world. But I also recognize that there is an absence of yoga in needing other people to do yoga.
So, instead of trying to sell people on the benefits of yoga, I turn to the words of Gandhi. I turn inward, and I do my own work. I try not to ramble with excitement when people ask me about yoga. I try to listen, to ask them questions, and to understand what they are seeking. I remind myself that everyone needs to find their own way, and that by practicing yoga myself, I learn to give them the space to do so.
In addition to this work, I do one more important thing for myself: I make sure I have some good friends who love yoga, because every so often I need to gush about how wonderful it is.
Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov