In my bodywork practice I usually ask new clients how they move their bodies. For lack of another term: what do you do for “exercise”? Often they tell me that they are practicing yoga.
Frankly I don’t have the faintest idea what that means. It could be, doing calisthenic motions in a hot and sweaty room at a fast pace. Maybe they are talking about “stretching”, either mindfully or overly aggressive. Does breath awareness play a prominent role or is it a mere afterthought? In fact the word yoga has been so misappropriated and diluted that some pretty good yoga teachers no longer even call it yoga. “Somatic movement” is one of several terms recently in vogue.
These are some of the discussions my fellow (retired) yoga teacher Bernhard and I are entertaining, seated on the Great Highway in front of a colorful cozy coffee van. Molly, the proprietor makes a good cappuccino and unexpectedly someone from the class, Sal , rides by on his bike. The joy of living in the Bay Area!
When I remove a little demitasse spoon that I carry with me, Bernhard smilingly calls me “a real nerd“. I own the title proudly: YES I am both a coffee nerd and a yoga nerd!
To illustrate my thoughts about so-called cultural appropriation, I show him a photo of a beautiful chocolate Buddha that I just received from my friend Greetje in Ghent, Belgium. She spotted it in the window of a newly opened chocolatier in her town. More to the Yogic point: how about a yogini Barbie doll that my partner Cindy recently encountered at Target. If you don’t shop there, Amazon can deliver it for just $22.95 within a day or two. We both laugh about this while watching the waves in the background.
As for myself: I still call it yoga. Maybe I do so in reverence to the guides and teachers that gave me inspiration along the way. Early books that spoke to me or individuals who embodied yoga simply by example.
I keep being reminded that when I move my body in a mindful way, my entire being responds. At times I may start a class a little bit in a funk. I either choose to hide it or more likely acknowledge it with a wink and a nod. Inevitably less than half way in I feel better, often way better. Especially on an emotional level. After all: I practice yoga to stay sane 😇
I’ll go a step further proclaiming that yoga matters more on those particular days. It’s easy to have the ideal yogic experience at a fancy overseas resort with organic catered food followed by a massage in the afternoon. Yes, I’d like some of that as well!! Yet on days when it is perhaps hard to get out of bed, maybe literally, to show up and move sometimes coming out at the other side, even temporarily, I would call that “advanced yoga”. It may not look like much to the casual observer, definitely not Instagram worthy. Yet this return to our body and it’s breath, especially in challenging times, is where true practice starts to develop, grow and even shine.
So today from the Great Highway, open exclusively to bicycles and pedestrians during the weekend, I’m here to remind all of you that our online shared yoga practice continues. Happily it’s still very much a living organism, changing it’s shapes and themes from week to week. Whether you join in almost daily or perhaps haven’t been for a while or never at all: I look forward to seeing you soon on the mat!
Robert, nice article on the daily reality of our lives. Always a pleasure to see you enjoying your coffee and to say hello on the great highway. One day, I will stop for a chat but coffee will be on me.