Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Yoga is...

I have practiced yoga for 14 years. Early on, I was introduced to shalabhasana, or the locust pose, as a means to help my back. In every attempt to practice this pose, my legs were heavily earthbound, no matter how much flexibility I gained in my back or strength in my legs. After a while, I began to tell myself stories about this pose:

My arms are too short.
I'm not strong enough.
This pose is not for me.

I began to modify the pose whenever a teacher would offer it in class. I avoided teaching the full pose. I identified with what my mind told me, and embraced the justifications for rejecting the pose.

Last week, I stepped into a yoga class that changed so much for me. The teacher was visiting from India, and he and his wife taught several classes at the studio where I teach. I had heard great things, but had little expectations as I began this journey with him. He asked us to use our breath in a very different way, and then to explain why it was challenging to us. We all had stories about why we couldn't do what he was asking us to do; he neatly and succinctly exposed these stories as false - like removing training wheels, then pushed us to try more.

And then came shalabhasana.

He asked me why I wasn't lifting my legs. I gave him my stories, and he - kindly - refused to believe them. He then explained how I needed an experience to prove it to myself, and that I would then be able to practice the pose forever after that. By adding a small prop, I was able to lift my legs skyward with minimal effort. And so I tried it again. And again, but without the prop. My legs joyfully rose. I tried it the next day, and had the same experience, as well as the days after. So, what happened?

Did he magically transform my arm length, my strength or change the pose so that it was "for me" now?

No. He reminded me what yoga is. From Yoga Sutra 1.2 (Gary Kissiah's The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali),

"Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah: Yoga is the cessation of the misidentification with the modifications of the mind."

My mind had modified reality to fit a concept of my ego: this pose is not for me. I misidentified with this story; I believed it... for a long time, too. By pushing us with our breath, and then giving me an experience that I was convinced I couldn't have, I realized how much I was believing that wasn't necessarily true.

This all happened just 2 days before my Kickstarter campaign was scheduled to end, when I wasn't sure that I could raise the $18K to make the video project a reality. After the class, though, 

I started to doubt my doubts. 

Maybe they, like my thoughts about locust pose, were wrong.

It turns out I was right about being wrong. We reached our Kickstarter goal, raising over $18K, thanks to all of you!!! Since then I've now been wondering, 

What else have I been modifying and misidentifying? 
What have you?


  • Hear Lorien's interview on the Transformational Power of Yoga Telesummit.
  • Next Kaiser Restorative Yoga for Cancer Survivorship 6-week series begins June 12 (ends July 24, no class July 3). Call 408-366-4284 to register.
  • Tuesday, June 4th: Lorien will be offering gentle yoga demonstrations as part of Stanford's Cancer Survivor Celebration week. See Events page for info.
  • Sunday, June 23rd: Lorien will be offering restorative yoga demonstrations as part of Kaiser's Seeds of Hope Cancer Survivor Day. See Events page for info.
  • Stay tuned: Lorien's Healing Yoga for Wellness DVD will be out in June...