By Ed Staskus
When I was taking yoga classes at Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio I learned a lot about the practice, from the thinking side of it to the action side of it. It learned it wasn’t any one thing but several things mixing it up in the melting pot. The core of it was simple enough, but the branches bore investigation, from headstand to meditation, no matter how exasperating they might be.
I wasn’t able to do headstand except against a wall for a long time until one day I was doing it, no problem. After that I popped up wrong side up at home, too. When a guy toppled out of the pose and crashed into me in class, I thought, man, what an amateur. I changed my tune when I almost killed myself trying to get a grip on handstand.
I never did get the hang of it.
The teachers were all different, all sincere, all good. They demonstrated the nuts and bolts of poses. The explained the idea behind them. They helped with adjustments.
They encouraged us, which was a good thing, if encouragement was what you needed. Encouragement and hope are two of the best things you can give another person. For my part, lack of encouragement has never been a deterrent. I am irascible enough to not be put down, even if I have to bide my time.
One element of studio classes always bothered me, however, which was the catch phrases the teachers used. Not all of them, of course. Lingo like drishti, bandhi, and chaturanga were helpful to know. Everything seemed to revolve around tadasana and down dog, making it essential to jump to attention when hearing those words. Lift your leg, open your chest, and bring your feet together were sensible and understandable. Some of them, though, got under my skin.
“Inhale the future, exhale the past.”
For one thing, breathing is breathing. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a fact of life. Breathing consciously or unconsciously, awake or asleep, running a 10K or doing Chair Yoga, is staying alive. Not breathing for a couple of minutes is losing your good luck charm at the crossroads.
For another thing, exhaling the past would mean puffing away everything you have learned and know. The past informs the present. It’s all gone, sure, but it isn’t going anywhere. As for inhaling the future, who can wait that long? When I was on the mat scuffling to keep up, I had to gulp air right now.
Besides, teachers were always saying, “Be in the present.” Today was tomorrow yesterday. Every pose was right now.
“Letting go is the hardest asana.”
Nobody who has ever taken an Ashtanga Yoga or Bikram Yoga class can possibly believe this. Bikram classes are a torture chamber and Ashtanga classes are simply torture. After finishing a pose, letting go isn’t hard. It is the easiest most wonderful thing in the world. I have seen folks letting go at Bikram Yoga studios and never coming back.
What is so hard about letting go and kicking back on the sofa?
“Release the toxins.”
Hearing it always reminded me of “Release the hounds.” What if I released my toxins and they started attacking others in class, for God’s sake? The teachers never explained the mechanics of it, except for saying nonsense like it came out in perspiration. There is no such thing as toxins that come out in sweat. Anyway, if I knew how to release them, assuming I was keeping toxins prisoner in my body, I would do so without anybody having to cajole me. Who needs toxins messing around their internal organs and circulatory system?
The phrase that dazzled and perplexed the most was “It’s all yoga.” It was like saying “It is what it is.” When I asked what it meant all I got was mush that implied yoga was woven into the fabric of life.
The life of the Mafia and Taliban? The life of Nazis and Commies? The zany cesspool of the NRA and the Grand Old Party? There are many monsters running loose and yoga is not in their DNA. The nut cases who shoot up schools and shopping centers don’t have a drop of blood of yoga in them. They could use it but eschew it for the darkness.
Even yoga isn’t all yoga. Much of it in the New World is a hodgepodge of calisthenics, jazzercize, and core work. Many don’t even bother paying lip service to the ethical and spiritual side of it anymore. The Old World is catching on to the economic repercussions and following suit.
There are practices Like Beer Yoga and We’re Stoned Yoga that have as much to do with yoga as the Three Stooges had to do with Schrodinger’s cat. Now you see it and now you don’t. Better to sleep it off than try to figure it out.
“A child of five would understand this,” Groucho Marx said. “Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
Some big-time teachers oozing sincerity have been the most insincere yogis ever, opting out for sex and greenbacks and adulation. They are always banging on Heaven’s door with news of the next Ponzi scheme. It was all a scam until the breadcrumbs led back to what they were really all about.
Don’t follow what leaders say, watch the parking meters.
When I looked around Rocky River it was the haves who were enjoying “It’s all yoga” the most. They had the time and energy levels. Next door in Lakewood folks enjoyed some of “It’s all yoga.” The problem is their income levels don’t match up, so they don’t have the same time or energy. The west side of Cleveland, where yoga isn’t a virtue except for the scattered islands of the gentry, it wasn’t all yoga, at all. The streets are meaner there and there isn’t the time or money to make classes essential, or even possible.
I don’t take classes anymore, saving myself several thousands of dollars a year. I practice at home almost every day. There’s nothing complicated about yoga once a few basics have been mastered. It’s easier than grafting plants or installing a garbage disposal. It has lots of benefits to it, like staying in shape and finding some peace of mind. When I get on the mat at home, I get to be me, not what somebody else is telling me I should be, using buzz words that conflate fantasy with reality.
That’s the best thing about the practice, the freedom of it.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”