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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Real-Life Yoga

Today, Ben and I got up bright and early at 5:30 am, ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant where I had the best Chai I have ever tasted in my life, and went out to see some of the sights of Jaipur. Our new buddy/autorickshaw driver, Saleem, chauffeured us around the city to the City Palace, the observatory and the Rambagh palace in his rickety, care-bear upholstered vehicle. After our sightseeing adventures, we did some more shopping, got a few presents for friends at home and I purchased a Sari! (I apologize to Suresh, owner of the Sari shop, for sweating on pretty much everything I came into contact with, and also for not finishing the hot Chai he so nicely gave me while I tried on Saris. It's 110 degrees outside)

Upon returning to the hotel, we relaxed for a bit, did some reading, and then went down to the lobby for a yoga class with Hotel Arya Niwas' resident yoga instructor. I don't remember his name so we'll just call him Little Mustache Dude. Little Mustache Dude was a good six inches shorter than me and old enough to be my grandfather. He didn't say much of anything by way of greeting, but instead led us down the hallway to a sort of lounge, where he rolled out two yoga mats and instructed us to sit down while he turned on the huge fan in the corner.

As soon as we began our yoga practice, I realized this was unlike anything I was used to. "Stand", he commanded rather than coaxed. "Spread feet apart. Now. Slowly slowly, raise hands up." There was no flow to the instruction, he told us where to move instead of using names of poses, and with his broken english it was sometimes difficult to tell exactly what he was asking me to do. "Bring hand up. Here. Now other arm over head and touch ear." Huh? He instructed modifications for every single pose, and when I tried to move in to the full expression of crescent lunge, a strict "NO! KEEP KNEE ON GROUND!" put me solidly in my place.

The yogi in me was confused. I practice yoga partly for the relaxation aspect and for my spiritual side - but I also practice yoga to challenge and stretch myself, to push myself to my edge...and really, this for me is where the self-discovery of yoga comes into play: by staying calm and focused through challenging situations, and by finding our edge and knowing what we are capable of, we come to understand ourselves better. This is what I have always loved about yoga, but here in this hot room with the giant fan blaring in my ear and Little Mustache Dude barking drill-sargent-like instructions that I barely understood, I was having trouble seeing what exactly I was getting out of this experience.

As I was moving into a series of seated twists, something occurred to me. The purpose of yoga isn't to make your thighs burn and your triceps sore every time you practice; the purpose of yoga is to give you the resilience to see the positive in every situation and to make the best of what is in front of you. This class certainly wasn't testing the strength of my body, but it was testing the strength of my patience. If I truly wanted to practice yoga tonight, I realized, I would have to make the best of a less than ideal situation and immerse myself fully in each pose, letting go of the need to be challenged physically.

As one of my teachers in uptown mentioned in last week's class, "Yoga isn't just something you do on your mat - it's something you take with you every day, to help you live a better life, treat people with love and be the best version of yourself." The real-life yoga is the most meaningful - learning to be OK with Little Mustache Dude even when he asked us to do ridiculous things like laugh uproriously for no reason to create a "shower of love," but most of all to be patient with myself, even when I let frustration get the best of me. And even when it's 110 degrees outside.


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