It’s been a year since I started practicing yoga regularly at the studio just a few blocks from my house. Like many women of my generation I have had an occasional relationship with yoga but this last year has been different. I now practice three or four times a week.
Yoga as I know and practice it brings a variety of benefits. It challenges and improves my physical balance, flexibility, and strength. It helps me be more immediately aware of my body, align my mind and body, and simply relax.
But what keeps me returning goes beyond these unarguably substantial benefits. It is the experience itself. Here I am in a space and time that is all about quiet focus. Distraction is minimal. I do not keep track of time. I am guided by the teacher and my own body, in my flow. Also important to me, I share this space and time with fellow humans.
I enjoy the few rituals and the never identical series of poses. (One of my teachers call them shapes.) I enjoy the names themselves: downward facing dog, cat-cow, warrior, tree, child, dancing Shiva…
Because of its origin my personal experience of yoga resonates with the other Indian threads in my life fabric. Appa grew up practicing yoga. His parents have been practicing it for all their life. Even though I practiced yoga in India only once, it is plain to see that western yoga departs from original yoga in many ways.
I have experienced western yoga in just a few of its many variations but I’d venture to say it can mostly be defined as a construct inspired by, and distinct from, Indian yoga. Lifestyle is for example a key dimension of western yoga, and probably one of the reasons why Appa has never been tempted to attend a class here. Comfort and softness are also a part of the western yoga I know that seems quite far from its original source.
The universe of western yoga is predominantly feminine. I do see men at the classes I attend but they are clearly the minority. I find them brave to show up regardless of the gender imbalance and the widespread notion that yoga is a women’s thing here — unlike in India. Perhaps I should also add that practicing next to a man can feel a little jarring sometimes, not always though.
Being (mostly) surrounded by women is one of the things I enjoyed when doing yoga. Women of various ages, body shapes, and physical abilities. Women who may or may not look like me but whose presence attests to the fact that we have something in common and that yoga will be there for me when I am older too.
Yes, western yoga is a derivative, but I don’t think its value should be questioned just because of that. It brings something tangible into the life of those who practice it. It requires commitment and a modicum of discipline. It anchors you in a real way.
I still wonder about the essential purpose of yoga at times, but I know for sure I want to keep it in my life. I am grateful to my yoga teachers Heather, Heidi, Karen, and Suzanne, for their care and spirit. These four women have different personalities and different styles but there is a light shining through each of them. I feel fortunate this light is part of my life now. Namaste.