“Take a moment to steady your breathing; envelope yourself in silence, ignore what is happening right outside the window, and right inside your own busy mind. Find someone or something to dedicate your energy to today and use this practice to send them seeds of joy and release.”
It sounds somewhat like a prayer, this morning dedication we make in my sunrise yoga class. And without fail, each morning, I find someone to send the positive and wholesome energies of my practice. One morning I send them to a co-worker I knew was struggling, another to David when it seemed we had practically woken up quarreling. I send them to an ailing family member or out into the world for the general well-being of all. These simple dedications make me press harder in my yoga practice–make me thankful for the exertion of limbs that can thrust against the mat and into a life-changing up-dog–the very image of a baptismal.
I am not religious in the traditional sense, but for the five years I have been practicing yoga I feel more spiritually alive than ever before. I am more connected to myself–to those who I pass on the street–I feel a greater sense of responsibility for the world, and in that way I am ultimately as religious as my Christian or Catholic or Jewish friends.
Yoga can tend to scare people who feel they may be exerting some sort of sacrilege by participating in a physical activity that has origins in religion. However, the typical yoga practiced by most Americans (and indeed globally) today focuses on physical well-being through a series of stretches and extended poses–the personal quiet that comes with it is just icing.
In some yoga circles, you’ll hear chanting, often based on the word “ohm.” Before you become disillusioned with images of monasteries and city-wide calls to prayer, the beauty of a simple sounded ohm can be as powerful as the resounding chorus of “Amazing Grace.” Open your mouth and say “ohm.” Watch the distinct shapes your mouth takes to elicit this poly-sallabic sound.
The origins of ohm are many, but I like best the idea that my yoga teacher once shared indicating that the three parts of ohm represent our levels of consciousness. The first represents our everyday level of consciousness when we are aware that goodness and gratitude exist in the world; the second represents our deepest desire to connect with our world in a way that is beyond our own needs; the third represents an ultimate connection to the universe through self-sacrifice. The last stage is rarely achieved.
Now, before you assume yoga is all headstands and healing, I will share with you one of my favorite parts of my yoga class–the music. From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, Bach to Kanye West I have yoga-ed with a beat. Imagine how much more you are willing to move when in the hypnotic throes of the Beatles.
In a single yoga class, you and your fellow yogas resign yourself to a space as big as your mat. In that space you bend and twist and stretch in ways that are often not very pretty and are quite often sweat-inducing. You humble yourself before your own body’s constraints and you let your ego drop away–unnecessary as it is. At the end of your class you bring your hands to your heart and you say namaste–the light within in me salutes the light within you–or, thank you for sharing this practice with me; I wish you wellness.
My little old man and I were walking down the street together one morning when I told him I was heading to yoga. “Yoga,” he says, “is why I am 89 and look like this.” He is a man with thick-lensed glasses and white prickly whiskers, but he is robust and lively.
I like the idea that yoga can create in me the same kind of punk-wholesomeness that I see in my friend. Namaste.
Yoga in the News
“Yoga” from the New York Times
How Yoga Can Improve Your Looks from Good
“Yoga is UnChristian” from The Atlantic Wire
“NBA Players Love Yoga” from Yahoo! Sports