Life Yoga

I find the philosophy of Yoga to be fascinating.  As I understand it, the word Yoga means “union” – as in the union of spirit and body.  While people do yoga for all kinds of reasons, the traditional goal of yoga is spiritual enlightenment.   This is meant to be achieved by repeatedly performing a set of mental and physical exercises.

In other words, you show up at your local yoga class, twist your body into initially uncomfortable poses, try to quiet the ten-thousand thoughts in your head, and hope something good happens.  Week after week you do the same poses, usually in the same order, trying to think (or not think) the same thoughts.

The funny thing about yoga is, most people who keep doing it ultimately begin to derive all kinds of benefits – physical flexibility, increased mental focus, relaxation, emotional release, exercise, and more.  Assume the positions, don’t let the discomfort stop you, magic happens.

This is a formula that can work in lots of areas besides the traditional yogic poses.  For instance, what if one path to a more joyful life was through “mouth yoga”?  The primary position to assume when practicing mouth yoga is to raise the corners of your mouth into a pose I call “smiling”.  At the same time as you smile direct your attention to thoughts that are pleasurable – people you love, things you are grateful for, fond memories, amusing events in your life, etc.  At first this position may feel awkward or uncomfortable.  And it may be difficult to keep your mind on joyful thoughts, but, with practice, soon you’ll be smiling and joyful whenever you choose to be.

Perhaps there is a paired exercise we might call “honesty yoga”?  The primary position would be face-to-face, preferably seated comfortably.  Taking slow, easy breaths one person would tell the other of thoughts or behaviors that are difficult to talk about.  The listener, also taking slow easy breaths, would practice thinking loving and empathetic thoughts and occasionally making encouraging sounds.  Again, it will probably be uncomfortable to do either position at first, but with practice comes skillfulness.

I rather like “apology yoga.”  Again this is best done from a face-to-face, comfortable position.  In gentle loving words one person would apologize to another for a recent action or exclamation that was unkind or less than loving.  Like other yoga, this position and accompanying thought might prove very challenging at first.  The attitude and words may feel uncomfortable, even vulnerable.  But as any student of Eastern philosophy will tell you – vulnerability is a path to strength.

How about “sex yoga”?  This is a particularly powerful practice for couples who are finding that their sex lives are diminishing and the relationship is drifting away from passion and way too close to siblings or business partners.  In sex yoga you agree to set aside time to have naked, body-to-body intimacy with each other every day for a month.  You agree to discuss your resistance, to be compassionate with each other, but not to miss a day.  No excuses.  Regardless of your mood, or horniness, each day you assume the position of lovers.  Each day you practice thinking lovers’ thoughts.  Each day you assume the positions, don’t let the discomfort stop you, and let magic happen.

Are you already resisting?  Are you thinking “It’s not so simple!”  or “I can’t just pretend to be loving, or honest or happy.”

Why do you believe you can’t.  Does this thought serve you?  Is this a thought you want to empower?  Is this a thought that empowers you?  This is what I love about yoga.  Yoga does not require that you believe in yoga.  Yoga works whether you believe or not.  As long as you repeat the postures and think the thoughts the benefits will come to you.  It does not matter if you subscribe to Eastern beliefs or Western, it does not matter if you are young or old, it does not matter if you are a blue, pink or white collar worker. Assume the positions, don’t let the discomfort stop you, and magic happens.

As for “pretending,” I’m sure you are aware that “acting as if” is a basic human behavior.  We learn to play the piano, to tie our shoes, to dance, to be in recovery from substance abuse by acting as if we can already do those things.  To pretend to love someone as a way of taking advantage of that person is reprehensible.  To pretend to love someone we, in fact, love is merely a way to find our way home to our heart.  It is my experience that “pretending” to love my sweetie quickly becomes genuine loving once my resistance has quieted.

I have been a grateful member of the Al-Anon community for more than twenty years.  Al-Anon is the worldwide, twelve-step recovery movement for the families of substance abusers.  Having grown up with the insanity of the behavior of an alcoholic parent, it’s hard to have any concept of  “normal.”  When you live in a house filled with the denial of reality, a place where injuries and abuses are perpetrated by people completely engrossed in their addiction, its impossible to know how to love healthily, how to have healthy relationships, how to not continue the insanity we come from.

At my very first twelve-step meeting I was invited to embrace the wisdom of “Fake it till you make it”.  All around me were signs and slogans – “Let Go and Let God.” “Easy Does It.” “One Day at a Time.” How could I “Let Go and Let God” when, in my childhood, letting go seemed the shortest path to chaos?  How was I to “turn my will and my life over to the care of [my higher power]” (step 2 of the twelve steps) when my childhood had taught me that the only power that mattered was the power of my alcoholic parent to hurt me?

“Fake it till you make it” I was told time and again.  Act as if you were no longer living out the nightmare effects of your childhood.  Act as if you believed the twelve steps would work for you.  Act as if you matter, your feelings matter, your wants and desires matter.  Funny thing, fake it long enough and one day it’s no longer fake!

Perhaps a life well-lived, a life that is joyful, a life that feels fulfilling, comes from “life yoga”, believing that this “life yoga” will work, and continuing its practice until, through your will, it works?

Assume the positions, do not let the discomfort stop you, and allow magic happen.

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