“Yoga is not exercise” emphasized the gentleman with kind eyes and a soft voice. Although surprised, I listened intently to the instructor in this new yoga class that I joined today in Singapore.
This isn’t the first time I have found myself in a yoga class. The first time was more than 15 years ago, at the gym at my workplace in California. I was at the office 6 weeks after giving birth. My body was a shapeless over-inflated balloon, my eyes seemed permanently encrusted with sand. I dragged myself to work each day and took naps at my desk when I thought no one was looking. “Its always easy to spot the new moms” said my colleague with a smile, pointing to the tell-tale drool marks on my left shoulder.
My supportive boss who pretended to look other way when I was slumped in my chair, showed me the poster announcing the lunch-time yoga class. I was the only Indian woman (other than the instructor) in a class of 20, predominantly female employees. I was the novice, the one who came from the land where yoga originated. “You had to come to America to learn yoga ha?” smirked the woman on my right. “I had to come here to be stressed enough to need it” I replied haughtily. On that tart note began my initiation into the ancient practice of yoga, one hour at a time, twice a week. By the time the 12-week session ended, I was a rejuvenated woman. I looked forward to the classes and to each day. My eyes got back their shine, my body started looking a little bit like my former pre-pregnancy shape (just a tad thicker around the middle though) and only the baby took naps during the day. I was a happier mother and my boss was an overjoyed manager.
The journey into yoga that began with a single step into the aerobics room at work has taken me places. Whether I lived in California or India, labeled a new mom or newly divorced, working woman or entrepreneur, I held fast to my yoga practice. From was initially a purely physical improvement program, the simple practice of being with myself for that one hour on the mat, allowed me to transcend daily travails. I inhabited a space of oneness.
I stood tall in the tree pose; it enabled me to write every night about my baby, about being a working mom and my tightrope walk across the chasm of guilt that divided these two selves.
I did 12 sun salutations the day I left the home I shared with my husband after we moved to India, taking only my daughter and a few clothes with me.
I sat in the lotus pose as I pondered how to create a fruitful life as single mom in a culture that frowns on divorced women.
I bent over in surrender in a forward bend while accepting that death of my parents, both of whom died within a few years of each other.
Like a mother, yoga suffered with me in the days when all I wanted to do was weep in bed. Like an older sister, yoga quietly watched me trying to quiet my mind as it ran off in a hundred different directions, afraid of what would descend once it stopped moving. Yoga stood by me watching like a proud parent when I turned my life around to find meaning in each day. Like a mentor, yoga showered me with blessings when I found a wonderful man to once more share my life.
I have tried different styles of yoga, different gurus. I experimented with various routines, at various times of the day. I spent a month at a yoga teacher’s training camp at an ashram. Yoga is always on my mind, if not in my body during the months I practice daily and even the days when I waver.
I don’t weigh myself to monitor my gains when I practice regularly. I just observe myself many times a day.
I don’t go to a gym. I watch in silence as the sun comes up shyly over the hill that I can see from my bedroom window.
I don’t need a therapist. I stay present to my feelings as I experience them.
And I have yoga to thank for it. Ever the patient teacher, yoga helps me gently come back to my center whenever I wander too far.
I asked my first yoga teacher “how do I know if I am doing the asanas correctly when I do them at home?”
“It’s simple. Do you feel better after your practice? If yes, you are doing it right.”
I feel great. I must be doing it right.