If there was a word to be chosen by the general public that represents yoga in an immediately recognizable way, it would, without a doubt, be Namaste.
This word is spoken in almost every yoga class, it is spoken as a greeting in parts of the world like Nepal, and heard like a chorus in India.
It is also emblazoned on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and yoga mat carriers. It is uttered by wizened old practitioners who spend hours meditating, and chirped by soccer moms at their weekly gym yoga class.
It has become so ubiquitous, so woven into our practice that some do not even know its meaning! When I surveyed a group of friends and classmates about the meaning of the word, people guessed at everything from "hello" to "class has closed" to "I have no idea, I just say it back to the teacher so i'm not the only one." Some don't even dare utter the word because they are afraid it is some sort of ancient incantation or prayer, as if saying it aloud may somehow call forth the colorful deities of yoga legend, blue skin and animal heads and all. I was amazed to find that so many people who use this powerful word are unaware of its meaning and practical application.
Namaste: "I bow to you."
This is also interpreted as "I bow to and celebrate that light inside your heart and see it is the same in mine" What this translates to in regular dialogue is that when we say Namaste, we recognize that we are all connected, that we see that those around us have hopes and dreams and fears just like we do.
While this is a great concept, a seasoned yoga practitioner realizes that yoga is not something we do on a sticky mat, but rather something we take out into the world! This practice allows us to take an extrea breath before beoming reactive, it allows us to be flexible in our minds as well as our bodies, and helps us learn how to allow rather than force our lives to unfold.
So how do we put Namaste into practice? I tried to explain this to a local news station last week.
In the aftermath of the senseless and terrible Orlando shooting at Pulse night club, many Phoenix residents gathered at the Pride center downtown. We came together to show love and support to those affected, and to give each other strength in the wake of a brutal attack on people simply because of who they loved. I arrived earlier than my friends, a rainbow band on my arm as a sign of mourning, and rainbow sunglasses covering red, puffy, cried-out eyes. While I waited, a reporter asked me if she could interview me, and I obliged. We talked for a few minutes, and I answered her questions as best I could; telling her that we were not going to be scared, that we will continue to love and support each other, regardless of gender, religion, or orientation. She nodded like she understood, sympathetically furrowing her brow as my voice shook with sadness. Then, she asked a key question, one echoed by every news station in the weeks that came after, the one that politicians argued over, and that families asked each other around dinner:
"What do you think we should do about this?"
Every action causes a reaction. That's universal law. We obviously can not simply pretend this massive, brutal attack did not occur. We must do SOMETHING, we must TAKE ACTION, we can not just STAND BY.
To some people, this means closing borders. It means arming ourselves. It means questioning everyone that looks different. It means living in a constant defensive state. I have the suspicion that this was the kind of answer being sought out, that I would magically have devised a concrete action that could be taken to somehow make this all better, and to prevent it from happening again. I stood there for a moment, carefully putting my words together, hoping that I could faithfully convey the truth in my heart to this reporter, and by extension, to those who would watch the interview on their screens that night. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak words that I feel so passionately about, and felt were so important, yet sadly were tossed aside by so many in favor of reactionary responses.
I took a deep breath,
And I told that reporter that I feel that the answer to this violence is connection. I told her that we as a society need to stop being so focused on our technology and look into someone's eyes and really SEE them. I told her that when we look into another person, and see ourselves in them, we immediately understand that we can not hurt that person, because that would be hurting ourselves. I told her we are all connected. I told her Namaste.
She quickly ended our conversation after that, thanking me hurriedly and marching off, microphone in hand, to find someone who wanted to DO something. I meekly smiled and told her cameraman I knew it was "sort of a crunchy, granola thing to say, but it's true".
I smiled wider.
We learn over and over again in our yoga practice that what we learn on the mat is practice for what we do in the real world. The very word, "yoga" means "to join". To join body and mind and breath, to connect with each other, to connect with our source power. And yet we are afraid to have a conversation! We are afraid to peel our eyes off of our smartphones and look someone in the eye. We are afraid to try and understand those who may be very different from ourselves. We communicate through screens instead of words, of touch, of feeling.
We do so at great peril.
So Namaste, my friends. I humbly bow to you. I honor that bright, shiny light inside of you. I celebrate because that is the same light inside of me! Like a candle that lights a thousand other candles, we share the same spark. We are not as separate as we think.
I embrace you.
They say change is good. They say "when one door closes, another one opens". They say "Everything happens for the best" or "whatever will be, will be".
Still, no matter what "They" say, change is terrifying!
Yoga teachers are no different from the rest of the population in that we get anxious sometimes about shifts and changes in our lives. We begin and end personal relationships, change living situations, and since many of us have "day jobs", we face the same hurdles of office politics, annual reviews, and the potential to be promoted or laid off.
The concept of yoga teaches us to let go of things we can not change, to focus our energy where it will do the most good. We try to train ourselves to stop grasping for things, and to stop clinging to people, ideas, or situations. This is all well and good on paper, but putting into action in our daily lives takes a lot of work!
Did Hanuman, the monkey-faced Hindu deity ever talk about what a pain it is to search for a new job? Did the elephant-headed Ganesha ever teach us about breaking up with a boyfriend? Can we imagine Shiva ever packing everything into a U-haul to move across the country?
In a word, no.
We are prone to grasping and holding on. Maybe we hold onto a job, a lover, a friend, or even a thought or habit because it is familiar. we are afraid of losing that with which we are familiar, even if it no longer serves us. This wasted energy on things that do not nourish us leads to what psychologists refer to as "cognitive dissonance"; the uneasiness caused by engaging in behavior (as well as thoughts and actions) that run counter to our core values. This can cause sleepless nights, irritability, digestive problems, and stress-related chronic disorders in the physical body.
One great aspect of our yoga practice is we get to practice discernment. Discernment happens on the mat when we try an asana (pose) and decide whether that pose feels "right" in our body. Are we stretching too deeply? Are we breathing in a way that helps or hinders the practice? Are we motivated by an excitement to explore and expand, or are we motivated by the ego? When we do poses from a place of expectation, or "should", is that really good for us?
What serves us? Nourishes us? Drives us?
Yoga helps us cultivate discernment to stop at any point and check our motivation for poses on the mat, and then we get to take that out into the world and put it to good use! Are we in a relationship that fills our need to give and receive love and respect? Are we in a career that fills our hearts as well as our bank accounts? Are we eating food that makes us feel strong and healthy, or sick and tired?
This is where we apply discernment in our daily lives. As we practice yoga together, we help ourselves and each other take those pauses to listen to that quiet, little voice inside that says what is really right for us. As I launch this site, I am actively committed to practicing discernment in the content and message. When I lead a class in movement, I choose poses and practices that are appropriate for the group. I encourage each person in attendance to actively participate, and ask tons of questions along the way!