practice makes progress


“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.” -BKS Iyengar

I would doubtless be irrevocably frazzled or dead by now had I not discovered yoga. Luckily, for over a decade, yoga has become my way of life. Sure, I still falter on the path. A lot. Yet, the essential has been ingrained in me. Yoga is not optional, and it’s not a luxury. Yoga is meditation in movement.

The word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, “reunion” in the Tibetan language.

Union of the little self with the Big Truth. Reunion with this moment, thus the ability to live in it. Minimizing multitasking. Moving through the time-space continuum with mindfulness, which simply means paying close attention. Yoga, as in filling your mind with gratitude for life, witnessing how it flows with grace and grit. Laughing. Weeping. Letting everything go.

Maybe it’s all semantics, but semantics are all we have. In the parlance of our time, “God” and “the Universe” are words too charged and ubiquitous to be employed effectively. As Sidney Poitier wrote in his autobiography, The Measure of a Man:

“I simply believe that there’s a very organic, immeasurable consciousness of which we’re a part. I believe that this consciousness is a force so powerful that I’m incapable of comprehending its power through the puny instrument of my human mind. And yet I believe that this consciousness is so unimaginably calibrated in its sensitivity that not one leaf falls in the deepest forest on the darkest of nights unnoticed. Now, given the immensity of this immeasurable power that I’m talking about, and given its pervasiveness through the universe (extending from distant galaxies to the tip of my nose), I choose not to engage in what I consider the useless effort of giving it a name, and by naming it, suggesting that I in any way understand it…”

Personally, I’m a lucky girl. I was born to loving parents in the United States of America in 1980. I’ve cherished friendships, material comforts and opportunities to travel the world as I’ve struggled to understand the blessings and curses of this human birth. I am an American expatriate named Michelle. Foremost, I am a yogi. I used to think that I needed to pick a tradition and stick to it, find myself a guru, practice one technique of yoga or Buddhism or something, for heavenssake!

Now I realize, it’s all yoga. Yoga and Buddha-nature are within me and without me. I strive for beginners mind, every day.

I must’ve had a stockpile of good karma stored up from past lifetimes that led me to first encounter yoga on February 1, 1993. I was twelve, going on thirteen and too easily bored. There isn’t much to do when you’re twelve. (And this was before the Internet, can you imagine!) I played Nintendo games with my siblings, inexplicably ran on the middle school cross country team (I hated running but feared team sports more), and jumped on my friend’s trampoline down the street. I was in the talented and gifted pre-algebra class.

I always did my homework.

That fateful afternoon, I plucked a paperback from my parents’ shelf in the game room upstairs. Most of the books held little interest for me. I’m Okay You’re Okay. A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy. Dr. Wayne Dyer grinning broadly from under his bushy moustache. I didn’t know what erroneous zones were and didn’t want to know. A Bob Dylan biography. The Hite Report, a red hardback full of personal, anonymous anecdotes from liberated women on masturbation, intercourse, everything to do with sex. (Okay, that one was pretty fascinating. Quite the comprehensive replacement to the birds and bees talk I thankfully never got.)

I remember it was February 1 because February has twenty-eight days, and the unassuming book that would irrevocably change my life had the awkward title, Richard Hittleman’s 28-Day Yoga Exercise Plan. Its back cover claimed to provide “the opportunity to look lovelier, feel better and remain younger – in just 28 of the most important days of your life.”

Like any teenage girl, all I wanted was to  have clear skin, enviable hair, designer clothes and a cute boyfriend.

I memorized the movements and ate up the bite-sized paragraphs of yogic philosophy at the end of each day’s assigned sequence. (Day 14: “If housework is continual drudgery and without meaning, [a housewife] becomes irritable, frustrated and depressed and these feelings are passed on to other members of the family.”) Even in adolescence, I detested this way of thinking and prayed never to become a housewife assigned to menial sweeping of floors or polishing of silver. Patriarchal verbiage aside, I developed the simple discipline of a young girl coming into her own. Every evening for twenty eight days straight, I wordlessly retired to my room to persevere at my secret practice (sans yoga mat) on the cornflower blue carpet.

I felt the thrill of pride at having the self-discipline to practice every day.

I achieved my goal of practicing for twenty eight days straight. For a good eight years, I kept repeating the book’s routines in some form or another. I have since moved on to other forms and lineages, but it’s safe to say I owe my yoga career to an American yogi named Richard. Thanks, Mr. H.

**

I have thirty years. But all I really have, and all I really need, is a daily practice of Yoga Schmoga. Inhabiting this intense, joyful and confused moment. Here. Now. And, at the time of this writing, I am healthy, happy and sane, thanks to yoga.

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