So are you saying that we’re all just, like, really excellent sheep?
In his 2014 book titled “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of America’s Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,” the Yale professor William Deresiewicz candidly speaks from his own experience of the “façade of seamless well-adjustment” and the “toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness” beneath it. Our society values measurable success and high level of performance in various aspects of our life: education, career, relationships, and especially physical fitness. These somewhat paradoxical realities (viveka in Sanskrit) drain the sap of our spirit. Because of this increasingly unmanageable expectation, it is of paramount urgency for us not to “lose it,” or not to examine why we persistently choose to ignore what really matters – the health of our mind and inner peace.
In a casual conversation with a stranger at a store, upon learning that I teach yoga, she quickly remarked, “Aw. I need to do yoga. I am out of shape… you know… the core.. I feel like 20 pounds heavier now that I have my kid. I had some yoga before and it kicked my butt. It was a total workout.” I kept thinking about her comments and her mental attitude toward yoga. How is yoga different from EVERYTHING ELSE we do in life? Trying to be perfect. Trying harder to be someone else or somewhere else? Trying to fit in one more thing to do? Shouldn’t yoga practice be something different? More like a refuge for the mind to come home? Or a critical time and space that we can meet our inner self, face to face, without judging or ignoring it? A meaningful encounter without artifice?
ATTENTION NOW. I may be biased but having been a gym junkie and practiced in other styles in Hatha Yoga such as Bikram and Ashtanga, Iyengar Yoga makes me pay attention for the first time in a seemingly physical regimen. The intellectual mind has to work for the body for a change. In a typical Iyengar Yoga class, students are asked to pay attention to a variety of their body parts, how they move and relate to other parts of the body, rather than how their body looks like. The poses are not the “machines” to make us fit or lose weight; they invite us to a meaningful encounter with ourselves, to unite with our inner self. To set the intent to feel better and stronger is not the end of story; it has to be coupled with a practice that continues to attract our attention.
DON’T LOSE IT. The psychological benefits of paying attention to our body, breath and awareness help us to cope with stress and anxieties. Many research projects have shown that regular practice of Iyengar Yoga reduce mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and neurotic symptoms. (Yoga as a Practice Tool” by Amy Novotney, American Psychological Association, 2009). Another publication “Mood Changes Associated with Iyengar Yoga Practices: A Pilot Study” by David Shapiro & Karen Cline, International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 2004) further affirms a significant improvement in positive moods after a 90-minute Iyengar Yoga class. Because Iyengar Yoga is well known for its creative and therapeutic sequencing, participants in this sample group practiced three series that consisted of standing poses, forwardbending, backbending and inverted poses. While standing poses seem to be more somatically activating (building confident), backbending poses followed by cooling inverted poses relaxed muscular impulses and alleviated negative emotional arousals.
Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”
— B.K.S. Iyengar