I recently covered a friend's regular yoga class at an upscale Sydney gym chain. I'm not really a "gym" person, I prefer yoga (obviously) or getting my exercise in the fresh air now that I live in a place where that is possible nearly all year. In fact, I'm so not a "gym" person, that I can't even remember the last time I was in a traditional gym. I think it was my university days.
This particular gym is on the 2nd level of a shopping centre in the middle of the city. Inside the gym itself, there was trance/lounge music playing and phrases everywhere to "be your best", "work harder", "sweat often", "push yourself to your limits". Here I was in the church of "no pain, no gain". When I walked into the yoga room I was impressed by how tastefully it was set up, limited stimuli to help naturally quiet your mind, but it was HOT and the trance music followed me into the room. Even the yoga bowed to the school of your best can be better still.
I started the class with everyone seated, eyes closed, encouraging them to let go of whatever rushing they encountered getting to class, any thoughts of their weekends or of their pending week and just follow their breaths. Not usually an easy task, but in many a class, this has settled my students down to a manageable level where they can start to connect and slow down. Throughout the 2 minutes that we spent in this position, nearly half the room kept opening their eyes to peek at me. As if to say, "what the heck, what is going on, what are we doing just sitting here, this is boring", "I'm notdoinganything".
Picking up on that energy, I decided we definitely needed a flow, a strong, powerful class that would work out all that nonsense, all that mental energy that was preventing my gym goers from being able to keep their eyes closed for 2 minutes. So off we went, core, sun salutes x6, strong poses, moving quickly. As I taught, I felt myself get swept up in that manic energy. After 30 minutes had gone by, I had taken everyone through more than I usually get done in an hour class because I'd been moving so quickly. Then I thought, what am I doing? I'm getting caught up. I'm buying into the gym culture, the city culture, the be your best and once you've achieved that, try harder still because you haven't yet gotten ride of that cellulite, wrinkle, extra 5 kg.
It really struck me half way through this class, that we live in such a society (at least in Australia and America) where everything is about working hard. Pushing and pushing until you're better than you were before. Advertising tells us we're not good enough as we are so we must try and improve our rotten selves to reach some strange, impossible goal of "perfection".
In the last 15 minutes of class, I finally figured out how to turn the darn trance music, that had been blaring and setting an impossibly fast pace, off. Immediately, the room settled, at least a little. We held a nice reclined twist, a happy baby, a knee hug and were off into savasana land. Finding softness, relaxation and practicing the possibility of letting yourself be just as you are.
After class, I checked in with a man who mentioned he had a funky thing going on with his shoulder. How is it feeling? I asked. Have you been to see someone about it? He said he hadn't because all they would say is to rest and he didn't want to stop, he didn't want to rest. What is going on when we are encouraged to push past our limits, past even our injuries instead of taking care of ourselves and resting?
So, I encourage you, humans of the world, to go your own way, to work softly and with ease. At least in your yoga practice, start there if no where else. How can you make it a little easier on yourself? As a student once said "I discovered today that when I relax more in the posture, I actually go deeper and feel more!" Relax, go slow, breathe and you just might go deeper and feel more. The key Yoga Sutra reminds us "Sthira Sukha Asanam" - may your postures be steady and sweet, a combination of strength and lightness, you can not have one without the other. Add a little more sweetness into your life, like a drop of honey on your tongue!