Life, yoga, the universe

You know why I love yoga so much, and am so grateful I’ve begun a regular practice again?

It’s not because it’s a good workout.
It’s not because it’s a wonderful series of stretches that makes me feel literally, physically comfortable in my own skin, even on the days when I don’t practice.
It’s not because I think my teacher is funny and warm and delightful (although she is).
It’s certainly not because I occasionally see celebrities at the studio (though that’s fun too).

I love my yoga practice because it shows me compelling, regular, firsthand evidence that committing to something, taking risks in it, and keeping going even when I don’t want to, pays off. It pays off in the long run, in all the physical and mental benefits that come from yoga, but it also pays off in the moment, in the sense of joy and living in the present moment that I feel every time I practice.

Moreover, yoga reminds me that we are all learning, that we all learn at different speeds and with different strengths and weaknesses, and that we all have the capacity to support each other. I know we all know this in theory, but when we’re really challenged, it’s difficult to keep this in mind. In yoga it’s very immediate — my neighbor can do some things, I can do other things, and when we partner up we can both do a lot more — and it’s a good reminder. Today two people helped me up into my first full handstand — total, straight-up-and-down, upside-down handstand — and I got to see the world from a full inversion! Very cool, and I didn’t know I could do that. We learn things from pushing ourselves, and yoga shows me that I can take these risks without losing myself or my safety.

My yoga teacher said today that according to an ancient idea, everything in the universe contracts and expands with the breath of life. We do the same when we do yoga poses. We contract to keep ourselves stable and safe, and we expand into poses once we have that grounding. But while the contracting keeps us secure, the expanding is what brings us joy. I think that’s true for everything in life. Sticking to what we know and protecting ourselves may bring some contentment, but the true joy comes from stretching out and giving ourselves unreservedly to the universe, however scary that might be at first. It’s that expansive surrender that makes me feel as I often do in my most joyful moments: that I could die now and it would be all right, because I’ve seen what life has to offer — been, in fact, the spirit of the universe — and that’s enough.

I give thanks that I have the health, the time, and the means to practice yoga. I give thanks for all the blessings in my life, all the people in it. I am grateful.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]