Monday, December 16, 2013

Not this body

Yoga has taught me to love my body, every curve, every muscle, every perceived flaw.  Yoga has taught me to move my body in ways I never imagined, to flow like a prayer in motion, to tap into strength and flexibility I never knew I possessed.  And most importantly, yoga has taught me that I am not my body, that I am something beautiful and Universal beyond this limited human form. Go figure!

So I am not my body, but I use my body- as an instrument, as a vehicle, as a shelter. I teach, feel and love with my body. It contains this idea of “me” the way any good vessel holds its contents- safely, securely yet decidedly separate from the contents themselves. Toss coins in a jar. Does the jar become currency? Place flowers in a vase. Does the vase sprout leaves too? No. The separateness remains.

All of this is at the front of my mind because of an unpleasant experience I recently had practicing yoga. The words “unpleasant” and “yoga” are seldom, if ever, in the same sentence for me. I love yoga! Chanting mantra, breathing my way through pranayama, sitting for meditation, flowing through asana. . . you name it, I love it! It’s my happy place, so to even think about unpleasantness creeping in just doesn’t seem feasible.

But it happened.

It started innocently enough. I got a call from a friend and business partner asking if I’d do some paddleboard yoga in front of a private waterfront residence that is being featured on a television show. They wanted to showcase some of the fun aspects of living in the “Venice of the Americas” as canal-heavy Fort Lauderdale, FL is sometimes called. And since I am the proud owner of Ocean Om, a standup paddle yoga business in that very community, who better than me, right?

I quickly said yes, got the address and time, and then went about my business, which of course includes lots of yoga.

The appointed day and time arrived. I strapped my BOGA YOGA paddleboard onto my car, plugged the address into Siri, and off I went; surprised to pull up in front of a lovely home with a driveway full of men milling around.

Um, ok.

I asked for the contact whose name I’d been given, and only then did I realize these men were all involved in the production of the show. Call me naïve. I just didn’t realize this was such a big deal. It was real TV stuff going on! Not just a single camera, but whole crews. Production assistants. Catering. Props. Walkie-talkies came out, waivers had to be signed, a mic concealed inside my top. What did I need a mic for? I thought I was just some eye candy in the background of some minor affair.

Turns out that is EXACTLY what I was, but the affair wasn’t so minor, for me anyway. What I hadn’t considered beforehand was just how inauthentic and uncomfortable I would feel using my body, the vehicle driving me along the journey of yoga in all its glorious facets, for something so commercial.

I felt naked, exposed and fragile. And that is saying something given that, for a rare change, I was actually fully clothed on my board. I regularly practice in a bathing suit or small items of form-fitting clothing, and there are pictures of me on the water that I cannot deny are provocative. It is my business, after all, and so promoting the experience of yoga on the water, something I genuinely love sharing with others, means I also promote myself as the owner and principal teacher.  All of this is to say that the strong, flexible vessel I inhabit is one I am accustomed to showing off in a certain way.

But THIS certain way, I didn’t like. I didn’t feel strong even though I was holding the poses. And though I am definitely flexible enough to move through the flow, I walked away with a sore back. Serves me right! No matter how many deep, three-part breaths I took or how many mantras I repeated during the roughly 90 minutes I spent on my board behind that house, I could not relax. I could not enjoy myself. I could not shake the feeling that I was pimping out the sacred wisdom and practice of yoga.  

You see, regardless of the fact that there are many public images of my body to out there to promote my company or my board sponsor, all of that is done in the context of spiritual work. Every class I teach incorporates mantra (sacred sounds, prayers and names of the Divine), fuses philosophical discourse with the postures, fosters a sense of awareness to the Truth that we are all One and provides students an opportunity to connect to nature and their true Self in an environment that is stimulating yet safe. The body facilitates this exchange, but is not the focus, for me any way. It is an honor for me to be a conduit for this experience for my students. And though I may be in the business of yoga, what I know for sure is that I am not comfortable with spirituality being for sale.  This might seem contradictory to some, which I can appreciate, but I hope you’ll allow me to clarify.

Because I am not the body you see on the board (or on the mat) it doesn’t really matter what clothing I am wearing. It doesn’t really matter what posture I am executing. What matters is the intention, bhava or buddhi in Sanskrit, among other words, that the work is being done under. That intention reflects the state of my soul, the shape of my Divine form. And my intention every other time I step on my board is to share, generously and freely, the gifts of yoga that have been given to me by my teachers and all the great masters and sages who came before. My intention is to teach. It is a pure intention. On the day in question, stepping onto my board to be eye candy for this show, I must admit, my intention was not pure.

This wasn’t by design. It was innocent, unthinking, really. I said yes to an offer I hadn’t fully considered, which was a consequence of not practicing mindfulness. I didn’t realize that just because my body would be doing “work” it knows how to do, doing it in this particular setting, for this particular purpose, would feel so wrong. Yes, I get paid to teach yoga to students who seek me out for that particular reason, but that is not the same as putting the outward manifestation of my yoga practice on display for something as commercial as this was. Now I know the difference. Live and learn.

All told, I am grateful. I learned so much through this experience so there is nothing to regret. I’m nursing my sore back and I’m refining my practice of mindful awareness. I am consciously cultivating bhava that is honorable and true to my yogic path. And I’m leaving the eye candy gigs to the other twisty bodies out there that find it conducive to their spiritual evolution. To each his or her own!

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