Yoga for EveryBODY

The fact that yoga in the western world is about fitness and image is nothing new. Yoga studios are normally filled with young, thin, white, middle to upper class women wearing tight spandex. The lack of diversity in age, size, race, social-economic status, and gender in people practicing yoga in the western world is a huge problem, and not one we are oblivious to. This is not to mention the lack of diversity in the styles of yoga offered as well as the lack of education about what yoga even is.

I am a “typical” western yogi in many ways. I am white, young-ish, middle class, and female. Additionally, I practice yoga and meditate every day. And yet, somehow, I still don’t feel like even I belong in a typical yoga studio. My body is curvy, not what I associate with a “yoga body.” My yoga clothes are usually baggy and comfortable. I am flexible, but there are many, many poses that I cannot do, either because I’m lacking the flexibility or the strength or because I’m very tall and my center of gravity is different…or something. Also, I practice types of yoga that are largely out of the main stream and sometimes seen as strange, even by other yogis. If an experienced yoga teacher who mostly fits the “typical” mold and practices yoga at home every. single. day. feels out of place in the yoga world, what hope is there for everyBODY else to feel included?

I wish I had answers. I know there are studios, like 21st Yoga, that are making efforts to reach out, break stereotypes, be deliberately inclusive, and offer a wide-variety of classes. I know, too, that there are teachers teaching yoga in low-income schools, in hospitals, in rehab facilities, in prisons, and many other places where people may not normally have access to yoga. As for my part, for now, please know that you are welcome in my classes exactly as you are. Come in a tattered t-shirt or sweatpants. Come with your perfect yoga body, because if your body is in a yoga class, it IS a yoga body. Do my yoga classes from a chair, if you like. Take what poses and exercises and meditations work for you and leave the rest. Talk with me if yoga interests you, but the costs are prohibitive.

It’s really no surprise that I’m drawn to classes (Yin, Nidra, Kundalini)where everyone keeps their eyes closed the whole time (but only if they want to!). Whatever kind of yoga classes you are drawn to, physically or metaphorically practice closing your eyes and I’ll do the same. Let’s make the experience what it’s meant to be–a way to reconnect and integrate all of the parts of ourselves. Flexibility and strength are just awesome side effects, real yoga is internal.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini is my favorite kind of yoga to practice, but I hated my first Kundalini Yoga class. At the time, I was in a yoga teacher training program that emphasized yoga for healing. When the gong was played at the end of my first Kundalini class, I felt myself “pop out” of my body. It was a strange reaction that I didn’t understand and I left the class crying and vowing never to go back. I did go back, however, for answers to what had happened to me.

When I spoke with the teacher and shared my experience, he said it was a very uncommon reaction and was definitely not the intent of the gong playing or the class. He then asked me several questions about myself, really looked at me and listened to me, and then recommended Kundalini meditations and postures I could do to strengthen my auric field and my radiant body.

The result of that interaction changed my life. I began to truly understand, for the first time in my life, why I had the sensitivities and proclivities I do. It also led to a deep understanding of tools I can use to manage those sensitivities. Kundalini Yoga was what I had been looking for.

As I delved more and more into the Kundalini practice, I found my personal meditation practice becoming a larger, more meaningful part of my life. I found myself clearing out old thought patterns and behaviors that did not serve me. I healed from deep and long-held wounds. I moved, and am still moving, toward the truest version of myself–one that is profoundly joyful.

Kundalini Yoga challenged me. It moved me rapidly toward change and growth. It urged me to reconnect with my own divine self. If these things sound a little scary, you’re not alone, but there is nothing to be afraid of. Kundalini helps you awaken your own dormant life force energy, to everything you already are and somehow forgot. And who you are is better and happier than you can even imagine.

Karma Yoga

Neem Karoli Baba, an Indian guru, said, “Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God.” Karma Yoga is the yoga of action. It is work. It is a yogic path where enlightenment is achieved through selfless service. It teaches us that we should give no thought to the outcome or results of our service, but dedicate our work to the Supreme Consciousness.

Sometimes I find great beauty, comfort, and purpose in striving to be a Karma Yogi, but oftentimes I feel frustrated. I wonder if I’m doing enough. I take my eyes off of the Divine and look at the seemingly non-existent results of my efforts.

This spring, I visited India for two weeks. When I returned home, I found the apartment I share with two roommates in complete disarray. Rotten food filled the kitchen counter tops and fridge. The sink was full of dishes. The garbage can and recycling bin were overflowing. Every cupboard was open. The smell made me gag.

It occurred to me in that moment that I do a lot more housework than I realize. I’m certainly not obsessed with cleanliness. In fact, I often feel like I don’t do enough around the house. But when I saw the cumulative results of my absence, I realized that I do, in fact, a lot of small and simple things. I wash a dish after I use it along with an extra fork or two that might be in the sink. I take five seconds to wipe off the stove after I use it. I empty the garbage can when it fills up. I close a cupboard after it’s been opened.

I am trying to remember this experience as I strive to walk the Karma Yoga path. My efforts to serve and love others are small and simple. The results are all but invisible. But perhaps the cumulative results, could I see them, are something more.

If they are not, if the kitchen had been perfectly clean, if the results of my service truly are non-existent, then this is still a worthwhile path. I am changing in ways that are both simple and profound. I will keep drawing my eyes back, again and again, to the Divine, where I’m reminded to let go of the outcomes. To surrender.

Regeneration Artist

I recently had someone tell me that I am a “regeneration artist.” This could not be more true. I have gone through cycle after cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. I pour my heart into building something–a relationship, a career, a home–and then I let it all go and start over. I cry. I complain. I wonder why, but I know.

Each time I am reborn, I am one layer closer to my center. It’s true that I must sometimes shed places and people that I love. But I also shed fear and self-loathing and patterns that no longer serve me. I am at once nearly unrecognizable to my teenage self and within arm’s reach of what can only be described as my True Self.

And so I choose, and choose again, surrender. I surrender to the cleansing fire that burns my life to the ground and the green bud that curls up from the ashes. I choose to practice ishvara pranidhana, surrender to the Divine.