Slow & Strong: Moving Well To Live Well

“Yoga is no longer simply a workout for me.” I told my teacher, who had become my friend. I remember getting used to hot yoga. I felt strength and joy from making it through class, and then relief as I fell into savasana, hoping I could savasana longer and better than the other people in class. It was so much like runner’s high, and different from the calm I found in gentler yoga classes. I wanted to learn more.

When I wanted to deepen my practice, I wanted to learn more about the mysterious connection between yoga and meditation nobody talked about. Thankfully I had a trainer who helped answer that. I enrolled in teacher training while working, doing my PhD, and training for endurance sports. People warned me not to take on too much. Friends were concerned. But I was out to prove (to myself, mostly) that I could do anything. And I did; I placed in a triathlon, I finished a 10 mile race, half marathon, and 5 other races that season. I passed my candidacy exams for my PhD. I worked for trade at a studio. I kept my personal practice. And a job.  And a relationship. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

A sense of dread hit. What’s next? Where’s my next goal? Things fell apart inside and I didn’t know what to do. I realized the way I’d been approaching life wasn’t working anymore. I met my goals, but all I found on the other side was exhaustion.

Then I went to India.

I had moments of such calm that I completely lost my shit. I needed to. I may have done a lot of asana stateside but there wasn’t a lot of yoga going on anymore. If yoga is being connected to here and now, that wasn’t it.

I tried to keep up the pace after returning. I completed the (many) things I committed to. But within months, people pointed out how unbalanced I was. Again. The habits I thought brought balance were actually me running from myself. And I couldn’t in earnest keep it up.

Work became stressful. Meetings were endless. Pressure was on. And one day, instead of doing my perfect Type A workout, I had another idea. I spent my lunch in the motherfucking Jacuzzi.

It was pivotal. There’s more to life than striving. I don’t need anybody’s permission to rest. And waiting for someone’s permission generally won’t lead to a good place.

I realize more and more how wrong I’ve been. I’ve confused relaxation with an endorphin rush. What I’ve called balance was overstimulation and nonstop sympathetic nervous system. And what many call yoga has more to do with connecting to Fitbits than the Self. And I can’t do that anymore. I stopped doing hot yoga. The spooky anatomy, mysterious toxins and seeking of headrush didn’t work for me anymore.

The only thing waiting on the other side of a posture is the ability to do the posture, or an injury attempting to do something unwise. I see a lot of unwise going on. I’ve done a lot of it. And to the people I’ve pushed toward unwise, I’m truly sorry.

Let me be clear, I think there’s a great value in hard work in asana practice. We can learn so much by staying in discomfort. There are great teachers (including some of my trainers) who push students to try new things, and I have the deepest respect to them. But with the deepest respect, I have to do my own thing, because that’s the only yoga I can teach. It’s not about obtaining anything outside of yourself. There’s nothing to seek; it’s already ours. And if there’s nothing to seek, then why are we striving?

I could say that students might benefit more by coming to yoga for a mind-body practice, and do other forms of exercise to get their workouts. Likewise, I see how disrespectful it could be to say that to a client who spends over $100 a month on their membership. Years ago I gave up my own gym membership to become a studio member. That’s a good thing about gym yoga classes; people don’t have to choose between yoga and other types of exercise, monetarily. I certainly like them more and more these days..

My workouts these days are unimpressive. I’m clearing as much off my calendar as I can. I exercise to have a healthy body and a long life. When I lift, I do functional movements to counter the other things I do. I bike commute at an unimpressive pace. But what else is the point? Should I spend the rest of my life striving? Can’t I be fit without punishing myself? When I started running, I was inspired by seeing seniors out running. Seeing people who had been moving for decades was humbling and inspiring.

I teach slow yoga; I usually don’t play music. My classes are grounded in yoga philosophy. My academic life is also grounded in philosophy. I ask hard questions. It’s where I live. When I see students do their own thing in class and dial back, I feel gratitude because I want to empower students to reject the group dynamic. I’m told my classes are hard, but I don’t encourage students to strive when I tell them that the whole point is mindfulness. And most importantly, I can’t teach in a way that doesn’t give students a chance to relax, which I feel called to give.

I don’t know where this will lead, but I teach solid, slow & quiet asana practice. There will be a place for the fitness yoga and Crossfiters, and for the heat. I think there’s just as much a place for slow, steady practice; sometimes gentle, sometimes not. There’s room for developing the skills of paying attention and staying present in discomfort and boredom. But it’s not for everyone. My classes might be fuller if I did fancy stuff. Being the teacher who says headstand may be unwise for you doesn’t seem to pack classes. But it’s real, it’s me, and I love what I do. I dive deeper and I continue to learn & grow and that’s where this comes from. It comes from the amazing teachers who’ve helped me become a better teacher. Including, and especially my students.

My journey through hot & power yoga was a marvelous one; yours may lead you to a different place than mine led me. Maybe arm balances are your path. But I ask: what in asana & fitness do we take so seriously? Are we moving this way to be better? Or are we trying to become professional athletes? If we’re moving to be better, to live better, and to feel better, the “find your edge” mentality may not work; in chasing your edge, you might miss the Self and find a cliff. No worries though. I’ll be here to offer you a hand back up.