Photo: Miss Menighan
Autobiography of a Yoga Practice
The longest relationship of my adult life is also the most ambivalent. I can’t imagine I’m the only person who has this dynamic with their personal practice.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CHRISTOPHER CLOUGH
A few months ago, a dear friend (and the creator of this wonderful magazine) asked me if I might want to write column. My initial response was a resounding YES! partly out of the excitement of having been asked, and partly out of my respect and love for Susan as a teacher and friend.
YES! however, was followed (and rather quickly, I might add) by a series of well maybes and perhaps I shouldn’ts.
You see, dear reader, I am an ambivalent yogi.
So, the idea of my writing for a Yoga magazine seemed like a bit of an odd fit. Unlike others who might contribute, I can not claim a long history of daily practice, or a deep and invested history with a particular lineage or teacher.
I came to yoga at an odd time, and in to an odd yoga.
My first yoga experience was not until I was in my early thirties. Living in NYC and working as a massage therapist, I had pushed my body to the limit, and out of financial necessity had continued working through a particularly nasty back injury. After a Rolfer saved my career (another story for another day), I was encouraged to try yoga, both to improve my back flexibility, and to strengthen my core.
NYC being the Baskin Robbins of yoga, I had a myriad of styles to choose from. Two nudges, one financial, and one personal, made my choice for me.
At the time I started, all of the Bikram studios in NYC offered a full week of unlimited classes for $20, and since there were three separate studios (different owners) I was able to take Bikram every day for three weeks for $60 (compared to $15 per class at some studios).
After three weeks I was hooked. I loved the simplicity of Bikram.
Each pose exactly the same each time, the clear almost incessant instruction, the detail and precision…my Virgo heart was smitten. It didn’t hurt that this particular style of yoga was delivering on its promises. In just a few classes I noticed a considerable difference in my flexibility, my back was less sore, I felt revived and happier after class, and in winter in NYC, the heat was lovely.
A few months in to my Bikram experience, however, I was beginning to get bored. The same postures, the same tempo, the (in some cases word for word) dialogue that accompanied the classes. I needed a change, and began to explore. I tried Baptiste and Jivamukti, Om with Cyndi Lee and Anusara at the divine Virayoga in NYC.
And then, in 2007 I moved to the Berkshires to live at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health to donate a year of volunteer service in what’s known as Karma yoga. During my time as a volunteer, I studied more different kinds of yoga than I knew existed. I learned funny sounding Sanskrit words, and made parodies of them. (Fallonyourassana anyone?)
I loved and hated yoga in equal measure that year. Loving the practice, but hating the commercial nature of the “yoga business”; loving the soaring wide open feeling of savasana, and then awakening to the hatred of my body. Living in a fishbowl like Kripalu, everything is magnified, and the ups and downs of daily practice seemed, at the time, like matters of life and death.
It’s funny, looking back. I never could have imagined that after leaving Kripalu that I wouldn’t practice, at all, for almost two years. But there lies the rub. For all of the wonderful teachers and classes,
I never felt like I understood how to build a daily practice.
Doing yoga on my own, I feel a bit like an impostor.
Which, of course, brings us round to where we began, and in some strange way why I agreed to write this column. I can’t imagine that I am the only person who has this kind of relationship with their personal practice. Whether it’s perfectionism, conflicted time management, or struggling with financial constraints, there are countless things that can stand in the way of a deeper relationship with yoga. I envision this column as a dialogue, a place for us to share honestly -
The gap between our aspirations at this odd physio-spiritual exercise, and the real world day-to-day experience of shaping a practice.
Over the coming weeks and months, I look forward to hearing from you, and will incorporate your ideas, questions and feedback in to this recurring column.
Watch for Christopher’s column every other Thursday on The Magazine of Yoga.
Don’t let CC be lonely! Write to him at email@example.com or schedule yourself for a first class massage at Under the Bodhi Tree on Commercial Street in Provincetown MA.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.