Yoga is often praised for its far-reaching effects on nearly every aspect of the human being. The physical practices create health in the body. Breathing practices can alleviate stress and anxiety. Devotional practices inspire community, and meditative practices can help to calm the mind. It sure seems like...
I've cured an incurable disease. For more than a decade, I was told that my autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, would leave my thyroid in permanent disrepair and that I would be taking a pill every day for the rest of my life. What I was told was wrong. I knew...
One of the most important teachers in my life recently passed away. I received an email from her son to let me know. The news was like the punctuation on her most powerful teaching: that I didn't need her and that I had everything I needed to live my happiest...
For many in our modern yoga culture, ahimsa has exactly one translation: vegetarianism. Or, potentially more focalized: veganism. I understand this and for many years (most of my life, actually), I have adhered to this practice. However, there's something wrong with this translation of ahimsa. It's not completely accurate.
I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend in Bali. It's been half a year since I've seen him, and since then he's spent a good amount of time studying with a teacher here on the island. There have been profound transformations for my friend via this Balinese...
Recently, on Facebook, I was alerted to the following video:
It's an extraordinary account of one man's personal transformation through yoga. By the end, tears were streaming down my face, and the desire to shout from the rooftops, "YOU CAN DO IT!" was overwhelming. Thought a better forum would be right here on HuffPost.
Over the years, I've had thousands of students. Two of them have defined what Arthur Boorman also illustrates: that anything is possible. I spent a couple of years working both with a quadriplegic man and a blind woman, both of whom never let their supposed limitations hold them back. They would attend classes with able-bodied folks, doing their best every breath of the way, often inspiring others in class to step up and try things that they were doing. Excuses dwindled and inspiration ran high with examples like that present in the yoga room.
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment Would you capture it or just let it slip? -- Eminem, from the song "Lose Yourself"
It is fascinating to watch the human psyche either defeat or empower us. Over and over, yoga practice gives us the opportunity to step up or fall short. We are challenged to stick with our posture or compelled to give up. Arthur Boorman and other students who have chosen to say "Yes!" to life are testaments to the power of the human will to overcome any obstacle. There are no excuses for people like Arthur, only possibilities.
For Arthur, his handicap was visible and obvious, just like my two past students who inspired so many on the mat. For the rest of us, our handicaps can lie dormant and insidious inside our minds, and harder to bring forth into the public eye. These are the handicaps of our beliefs.
The belief that we are too fat. Too old. Too young. Too inflexible. Too hyper-mobile. Too injured. Too healthy. Too poor. Too rich. Too stupid. Too smart. Too righteous, not righteous enough... Do we need to continue? These beliefs create limits that put us in boxes, or as Morpheus from "The Matrix" would describe, "A prison for your mind." The wheelchair, cane or crutches might not be on the outside, but anytime we give up on ourselves and forget to celebrate every possibility to live life outside the lines, we are condemning ourselves to a life of limitations.
It's time to celebrate yourself, to stand up, own the moment, to choose life. Giving up on ourselves is the greatest mistake we can make in our lifetime, this brief few decades we have on this planet. Nothing gets better unless we make it better for ourself.
Our work is to go beyond the challenges that life has set up for us. We all have problems. All of us have some injury, some event, some circumstance, some curve ball to dodge. For some of us, those curve balls are flying faster at us than it is at others, but we've all got these things to deal with. It's a matter of stepping up to the plate. Because we can grow, or we can die. We can go big or go home. If we let life suck the life out of us, we've already lost.
It doesn't matter what we can't do; it matters what we believe we can accomplish. There are a multitude of stories of people triumphing over every type of hardship. These examples serve as evidence that it's possible for each of us to do the same, because every single one of us is cut from exactly the same cloth; there is no human being on this planet that is "better" or "worse" than any other. If our neighbor can rise up beyond his means, mechanism, or situation, than it is proof that we can do it, too. Arthur Booman was told he couldn't walk. So, what did he do? He ran.
Yes, we start where we are. Yes, we deal with the reality that is presented and choose to move beyond it, pressing against those prison walls of our comfort zone. Arthur didn't start with a headstand, but he fell over and over again until he got it on video and put it on YouTube for all to see as a testament to what is possible.
The difference between the possible and the impossible lies in the choices that we make: to either affirm life or deny it. That's it. Really. That's it. I know it feels like it can't be that simple. "But, look at me!" we say, "Look at this circumstance or condition, and all those people who tell me I can't." Well, instead of looking at them, how about looking to all the people who tell us that we CAN. Because those people exist. Every one of us has some person out there who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. And, for some of us, those figures might mean the difference between life and death.
"The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there's no doubt about it. The world without spirit is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who's on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it's alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself." -- Joseph Campbell
It is the moments that we've chosen to rise above our circumstances and challenge the boundaries that have developed our character and made us who we are. In every story known to man, it is this quality that defines the "hero." Joseph Campbell outlines this in his work "The Hero's Journey" and goes further to say that each one of us desires to be the hero in our own life's story.
The only way we do that is by stepping the fuck up.
Stop playing the victim of circumstance. Stop yielding to the condition of our current existence and use that existence to affirm the life within us and open ourselves to the world that lies before us. Heroes are born this way, and they are the ones we look to for inspiration. Wouldn't it be amazing if we no longer had to look with envy at the hero outside of us but made the conscious, compelling, personal choices every single day to realize the hero within? Arthur Boorman is more than a hero to the more than 3 million people who watched him on YouTube... he's a hero for himself. He's proven to himself what he is capable of and has established the kind of self confidence that an unshakable person has when someone looks at them, and says, "You can't," and they just laugh. They laugh because they know it's a silly, unfounded saying and they understand that of course, I CAN.
For more inspiration: Mumford & Sons, "Roll Away Your Stone"
For more by Alanna Kaivalya, click here.
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Photo by Lena...
I wrote a book titled Myths of the Asanas. This was before I found out about the real myth of the asanas... that most all of the ones practiced these days are less than 100 years old. Not kidding. I've spent nearly half of my entire life studying...
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What do you do when it's time to leave your teacher?
At some point, every student must leave their teacher. It's a built-in principle of yoga. Parents raise children to be able to survive on their own at some point; its the same concept between teachers and students of yoga....
Krishnamacharya has three qualifications for a yoga teacher. As the source of much of modern day yoga, and the teacher of luminaries like B. K. S. Iyengar and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, this guy clearly knew what it took to possess the wealth of wisdom that yoga embodies. Of course,...
This beautiful video came out recently featuring a gorgeous yogini in nearly nothing doing advanced asana in a New York City loft:
It's been all over Facebook and YouTube and more than a million interested viewers have watched it. The production is gorgeous, and the featured yogini has clearly honed her practice. My first reaction to this video was: That's never gonna be me.
Not only is that body type not mine, it also doesn't reflect the physiques of many dedicated yoga practitioners. After years of dedicated practice, sometimes rigorous vinyasa practice even, we may still just look... like ourselves. So I guess the question is, can we start celebrating that?
The woman in the video is beautiful, and these remarks are in no way a slight or degradation of her work and body. Much the opposite. It is great to celebrate her work and body, too. But isn't it time that what we see representations of yoga practitioners that reflect who is actually practicing, as well as what they are actually practicing? Apparently, around 20 million people practice yoga across America. They can't all look like supermodels, right?
No, the reality is that in classes, some of the most graceful practitioners are overweight, non-Caucasian, and well out of their 20s. Some are also male. This discrepancy has long been a complaint of fashion and media, and though both of those elements exist in yoga here in the west, the standards are not going to change unless the practitioners demand it.
That's right. Until we value seeing more real representations of ourselves as ambassadors of our beloved practice, we'll continue to see images that reflect our current impossible ideals. These impossible ideals come from an ego that tells us we're not good enough, we're not skinny enough, we're not flexible enough, we're not "whatever" enough. It's possible we'd rather see the image of perfection because it makes us believe we can achieve it than to be confronted with the reality and try to unconditionally accept that as perfect.
This is the challenge. Yoga challenges us to see what's right about our bodies rather than what is wrong. It asks us to be happy with what is rather than what needs to be changed. Yoga instills acceptance... in our large thighs, cellulite, wrinkles and tight hamstrings, rather than the overwhelming and all-consuming desire to try and fit ourselves into some box that just isn't, well, just isn't us.
For many, it takes years of practice to get to the point that we don't obsess over the lines appearing on the corners of our eyes, or lament the injury that has us refraining from chaturanga for a few months. Surely it would be more helpful for those not at this point yet, or even for those who have not stepped not the mat yet, to see that yoga can allow us to be completely happy with ourselves. We get to enjoy our lives without obsession or a feeling of incompleteness. We see the beauty in big hips that have a hard time lifting off the floor into a graceful handstand, and the glory of tight hamstrings that make hanumanasana (splits pose) a distant dream.
These supposed imperfections actually give us something to practice. Richard Freeman has said, "blessed are the tight people." It's because they know the value and power of a practice that can slowly open them up. Really, blessed are all the things we previously thought were problems. Because all of those problems give us reason to examine ourselves more closely. This is how we realize that the only way we'll get rid of those issues is if we can stop seeing them as issues!
When we're happy with who we are, our ideals shift back into a mode of acceptance and appreciation, rather than a state of anticipation and inadequacy. At this point, the video of the simple yogi with a lot of wisdom would garner as many hits. We'd be as happy seeing a New York loft as a small apartment on a quiet street. We'd celebrate the differences and see only the common thread that makes us all the same, the thread that makes us us. That is certainly worth celebrating.
For more by Alanna Kaivalya, click here.
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