I learned a few years ago that stories tell me when they are ready to be written, not the other way around.
My yoga story, which extends back nearly 15 years, told me it was ready while I was eating breakfast this morning.
I am studying to be a yoga teacher. Until now, I’ve mentioned this to only a few people. My restraint has puzzled even me, given my enthusiasm for the venture and my penchant for grand gestures of all kinds.
Yet the only group to whom I mentioned this was my small choir at church. Maybe I announced it there because I thought they’d understand why I’m doing this, without my trying to explain. Like yoga, singing exists only in the doing.
No words can convey what it feels like when many voices become one. Although skill, practice and dedication are central to the undertaking, no amount of effort can force a unified voice into existence. In fact, effort and its caustic cousin – striving – stifle both the individual and collective voices.
Yoga can be described with exactly the same words. The Sanskrit word itself means “union.”
Yet my experience of yoga-teacher school started out as a struggle, seemingly at odds with my experience of yoga itself.
Even though I knew this was only my own perception, it still worried me. My own fear of failure had sparked a stridency that threatened to strangle everything I love about yoga.
One night I even lashed out at an extremely patient and kind instructor while inside the yoga room with other trainees. The irony of that, I’m sure, was lost on no one. I am ashamed.
Because words are obviously so important to me, I began to notice my whole vocabulary around yoga mutating. Words I hate, like “achievement” and “struggle” displaced words like “acceptance” and “release.”
In the mirror of the yoga room, however, I could see the visible part of my practice advancing. I was going deeper, reaching farther, holding longer.
That meant nothing. Inside my body, I was losing more ground every day. I hurt. Although I tried to hide it, I began constantly noticing my otherness. I was older, fatter, and more forgetful than the other trainees. The harder I tried, the worse I did at learning and recalling the many words that guide the yoga practice.
Yoga had moved from my soul to my todo list.
Then, as a humble student, I stepped into the room for a session Monday night. I won’t even attempt to explain what happened there, mainly because I don’t know myself. But when I stepped out, fear and uncertainty had disappeared, and I could see a path unfolding in front of each step.
I’m sure the teacher had no idea this took place. Could there be any higher compliment for a true teacher than to help and heal while remaining invisible? Perhaps one day that will be me.
In yoga and at the gym, you’ll often hear the phrase: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” From Yoda it comes. Many people interpret it as a motivational cliché, perhaps kin to my least favorite motivational aphorism: “Give 110 percent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I, however, see Yoda’s words as a mere statement of fact. Actually, there is no try. “Trying” is a thought, a cognitive construction, a kind of illusion. It is an apparition, gliding through the nothingness with words like “success,” “struggle” and “win.”
Ah, but “do”! Now there is a word we can sink our teeth into. Think of all the human things we can do: Read. Speak. Walk. Eat. Learn. Cry. Dance. Sit. Stand. Sleep. Sing. Stretch. Kiss. Hug. Join. Laugh. Breathe.
So, here and now, between you and me, I humbly offer you those words. Perhaps they are my first words as a yoga teacher.
Do them, or do them not.