One of the first questions I ask a new group of teachers in training is this question: “What is yoga?”
At first, they always look stunned. They sit there for a second, like I’m joking. I almost always have to say, “No I really mean it, what is yoga?” After some consideration, they realize it’s a harder question to answer than they thought. Sheepishly, they will start giving me words that are typical and expected of people who are already doing yoga.
And the list continues to grow, sometimes with a few concrete answers but mostly with conceptual thoughts about their own experiences. Then, a brave soul finally pipes up and says, “A workout.” (At which time, the yoga lords come out of the clouds with their baskets of snakes and banish all of the participants to eternal life in a world of carnivorous, non-recycling, socially unconscious half-zombies, performing only step aerobics and driving gas guzzling SUVs.)
When the word “workout” is mentioned, I say, evenly, “Yes, and when you workout, do you do it just once? And then you’re done?” They all shake their heads and say no, you do it regularly, forever, because it’s important to stay physically fit. And in my mind, I’m thinking, “Now we are getting somewhere.”
So my next question is usually something like this: “So what kind of results do you get from doing yoga every day?”
…I feel better, I look better, my sleep is better, I’m stronger, I have less pain. I am not as reactive with my spouse or my children. I have more ideas. I am more productive at work. I get better at time management and organizing areas of my life. I make better food choices and don’t crave so much junk food, sugar or alcohol because I want to feel great the next day. I sleep better and I am more focused. I don’t get so caught up in drama. I make and achieve more of my goals, I am inspired by my teachers to believe in myself and do great things, and most of all, I make friends. Friends who are like-minded, supportive, compassionate, happy, working for similar goals as myself, and most of all, real.
Those are pretty darn good results for a “workout.”
I explain to the students that the reason I actually like the idea of people thinking yoga is a workout is because it is. Why are we trying to say it’s not? Well, because there’s just so much more to it than just a body workout. And because the purists don’t want to cheapen it. But the thing is, for new people, if we started spewing out all the things we think yoga is, their eyes would start crossing, they would feel overwhelmed to say the least, and intimidated at most. All the other wonderful benefits of yoga are things that we become. And people are watching. They see.
There is a cool little equation thing that happens, and that is what they start to see. When you “workout” with your community, day after day, and you are feeling healthy and fit, your relationships improve, you change your habits because of cool programs like the Indigo30 — you become more fluid in all aspects of life and the people around you notice. You love the changes, improvements and experiences so much that you go more often. It becomes a routine. And before you know it, it becomes what I believe yoga really is: a lifestyle.
It becomes so ingrained in who you are that your whole social circles change. It becomes so automatic that it’s almost no different than brushing your teeth — the idea of not doing it is not a deliberation or an option; the idea of not doing it is funny and out of the question. (Yoga is like brushing your teeth but instead brushing your body – getting all the funk and particles and film and plaque off of your physical body and out of your mind. And Indigo of course, is a Sonicare.) You have adopted a new lifestyle, and it would be very hard to knock you out of it. But, it’s possible. Sometimes it only takes one person to suck the life out of something you love very much. One person with one comment, and suddenly, you’re questioning everything, even this wonderful new lifestyle that somehow started with a seemingly harmless “workout.”
I’m talking to you about this right now because there will be days when you are so tired that you don’t want to brush your teeth before you go to bed. But you get up and you do it anyway. Because you know you have to. There is mighty change and strength that is needed in our world right now, and we have to do our daily work on our mats to be able to consciously, clearly, and wisely make decisions for ourselves, our family and our communities that evolve us instead of just tolerating or even denying. It goes so far beyond our mats, but it starts at our mats, which in many cases is where our heart sweats and bleeds and repairs itself.
My oldest son, Freddy, is reading Night, by Elie Wiesel, in school. If you are not familiar, it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of a Holocaust survivor. I was an unusually voracious reader when I was a teen, reading all kinds of Holocaust novels and British history novels, and so I have read and known this work for almost 30 years. It is a must-read for every human on the planet. One of the questions for his review was about how Elie, the main character, felt when a Hungarian gypsy strikes his father. (The answer is that he does nothing, and is forever haunted by not standing up for his father.) When Freddy and I got to this question, we talked about the idea of non-violently standing up for what you believe in, and owning your truth, at all costs. We talked about how remaining quiet and silent to please others whose voices might be louder can come from a lack of courage, for sure, but that as leaders, we must own what is right, and fight for it. We talked about instances at school, social circles and in the world, where people are either sitting down on issues, agreeing with things they don’t even understand just because the people around them are, and most of all, the bravery it takes to speak up for what is right and good, even if it means getting beaten down. I told both of my boys in my mother lioness voice, “BOYS, YOU STAND UP. YOU STAND UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT. YOU PROTECT YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND STAND UP. There is no grade, there is no achievement, there is no sport or diploma or job or status that will ever make me as proud as you standing up for others.” (To which, God love my born Texan boys, I received a “Yes ma’am.”)
As you bring your Indigo30 to a close, you are only turning the page to a new chapter. One that you will have to fight for at times. Your new lifestyle of yoga and healthy living will invite criticism and judgment. Some will question your spiritual and religious beliefs because of stories and myths and misunderstandings about yoga that have been swirling for centuries. Hold steady. This is who you are now; you know that your little “workout” is a way of living now, one that has brought you nothing but betterment.
Call on the strength of all who have come before you who have stood up for themselves and a conscious evolution of the whole. And above all, keep going.