The Slow Yoga Series, Vol. 4

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All of yoga is made-up. Yes. All of it. Someone made up the first pose, the first point of philosophy, the names we call it, the breathing techniques, all of it. It was all made up by people with zero experience. Yoga classes did not exist. People did what made sense for them. Yoga has been a journey of constant discovery from the very first yogi. We had to figure this out as we went along. We are developing new styles of yoga all the time, so we are still figuring it out as we practice. We make up modifications. We make up rituals. We make up the sequences. We make up metaphors to explain it all.

You are allowed to make up things. Discovery is an important part of developing a yoga practice that is yours—suited to you, sustainable for you. A practice that serves you will need to evolve. Let that evolution include the right and privilege to edit out what does not serve you and to include whatever does serve you, even if you made it up. All teachers are wrong about something. Most are wrong that there is only one way to practice or progress. Most can’t help but advance their own rules and regulations because they were trained under a system that did not allow them to make things up.

Never study with a teacher who holds you back. Create all the modifications you need. Discover new transitions. Put things together in the way that makes sense for you. Yoga is not a religion. It has no god (including your teacher). With the exception of injury for failing to use common sense, you won’t be punished.

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Don’t be afraid to let yoga include laughter. It doesn’t have to be so damn serious all the time. Yes, there is serious work afoot when we begin embracing yoga as full-spectrum wellness (body, mind, spirit) but there is also room for fun. Your practice can be light-hearted and joyful. There is room for humor, for play, for doing something different just for the FUN of it. This can all get so heavy so fast and there are scads of yogis and Yoga Nazis out there trying to rule, regulate, and regiment all the fun out of yoga. Fight that power.

We’ve more than worn out all the old proverbs about balance, so I won’t repeat them. I will, however, suggest that none of the hard-ass, hard-line, hard-core crap will matter without it. I’m all for doing the work and being seriously dedicated to the work but sooner or later everyone just needs a break to feel good. It’s not a sin to crack a joke, to succumb to an attack of the giggles, to experience pleasure. Take a deep breath, find your center, and let yourself revel in a little mirth, dammit. When we envision ourselves enjoying the rewards of all this work we usually envision enjoying it after the fact. No. It’s okay to enjoy it while we’re doing the work too.

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There is no such thing as doing it wrong. You cannot do yoga wrong. If the fear of doing it wrong holds us back on the mat then once again, we aren’t doing yoga at all. The notion of doing it right or wrong is based on comparisons. In order to call something correct we have to first establish a standard. Then we’d have to compare it to the standard. Nope. Ask any yogi with a disability to comment on doing it right or wrong. Ask any yoga teacher who has ever offered a modification for an injured yogi, a post-partum yogi, a yogi with an artificial limb. a yogi with chronic pain. If there is no wrong for any of them there is no wrong for you. Wrong simply does not apply to yoga.

My teacher Vicki once opened a class by asking us to confirm that we all had a basic understanding of Sun Salutations. We did. Everyone was comfortable with a basic Surya Namaskar. She then invited the entire class to warm up with several rounds of Sun Salutations, unguided. No cueing. From memory or from our experience, we were all to begin our Salutations independently and at our own paces, warming up until she invited us to stop. She watched. She moved around the room and watched. Nearly every student who confessed to knowing a Sun Salutation did something completely different and no one was doing it wrong. No one was corrected. No one was doing it right either. No one was congratulated or given a gold star. Yoga is not a sport. It’s not a profession. It has no standard procedure.

Relax. You cannot do it wrong. If you don’t know what comes next, do what comes naturally.

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