I have almost quit yoga a bunch of times. Not seriously, of course. I get about as far as a pouty seven year old threatening to run away from home. As soon as I start to pack up all my favorites I realize two things: (1) I have nowhere else to go, and (2) I actually really love where I am. I just get frustrated some times.
A few nights ago, my girlfriend Amanda and I were talking at the end of the day, and exchanging the ubiquitous "How was your day?" Q&A. There was a lull in the conversation, and I hesitantly shared a thought I'd had stuck in my head all evening: Sometimes I wonder if I should just stop teaching and do something else. It was short and clear, but piercing and seemed to linger like a bad odor. It felt like a confession; like I needed to brace myself for an ensuing value judgment. That single thread of words had been revolving on a pretty continuous mental-loop for several hours (maybe longer; days), and I hadn't yet thought much at all beyond the one sentence. I didn't even have any real intentions of saying it right then; it was spontaneous. I just waited, almost frozen, because I didn't know what else to say. And I didn't know what she was going to say. I took a very deep breath to soothe the thumps in my chest.
::inhale fully...exhale completely...::
She had a question, two of them in fact. She said first Have you ever, since you started yoga, stopped completely? And I quietly but matter-of-factly said No.
::another deep breath...::
And then she said Do you think that might be because it's a necessary part of your existence, like eating and sleeping, without which you would cease to be You?
I don't remember the details of the rest of the conversation, but I do remember that internally I felt like a knot had been untied. My whole body slumped a little as muscles which I didn't even know were tense softened. And the broken record playing in my head stopped immediately. I knew she was right; I just needed to be reminded.
The reason why that thought had occurred to me that night is because I am frustrated with my yoga right now. It's in a different state from what it used to be, and that is difficult to accept. I was very lucky for a very long time to have yoga as my full-time job. I owned the studio, and there are definite teaching and practicing perks to that role. I taught many times a week, often even many times a day, to students I had gotten to know after years of bonding. I knew some of their practices as well as I knew my own. Whenever I wasn't teaching, I could have my own practice (and it would often last 2, 3, 4 hours) or write for multiple blogs or study/prepare for upcoming classes or seek out new trainings for myself or be a student in someone else's class. It was a fulfilling privilege.
Don't hear me wrong; I am definitely not saying that I'm currently unfulfilled or unprivileged. I have been welcomed into a new community of wonderful teachers and students, and am very much enjoying the opportunities to grow within all new circumstances. However, for the first time in a long time, I have to have one of those "real jobs." I spend 40 hours a week clocked in doing what other people tell me to do. I know I know most of you do, too. And lots of people who want that don't have it. I promise I am not complaining about having a job; I am grateful for my paycheck and for all that it provides me. I am simply acknowledging that my reality has shifted, and it doesn't always feel good.
The truth is that yoga defines me. It is necessary. Not in the sense that a single pose or lack-thereof makes or breaks my sadhana. Or that it is a rigid or static thing for me. The individual everyday activities of yoga are not defining. They change, ebb and flow, strengthen and weaken, transform and evolve. But the presence of Yoga is critical to My Big Picture. Preferably more often than not.
Right now it's less often; hence my recent feelings of frustration. Right now yoga is competing with my j.o.b. And the job is winning. Rather than other activities fitting in with whatever time is left over after yoga has claimed all that it wants, I find myself squeezing in bits and pieces of yoga here and there. And sometimes not at all. I find myself wanting to nap on my days off rather than practice or write. I am inclined toward the television in the evening rather than a copy of the newest Sutra translation. And my laundry basket is suddenly full of work shirts and no leggings. It's a little disorienting; even sometimes disappointing. And I would be lying if I pretended that it wasn't.
What I realized is that I have been having a little internal pity-party for a couple of weeks -- wishing for something that isn't rather than appreciating the things that are. My yoga has changed, but it hasn't stopped. It probably never will. I know that partly because this isn't the first time my yoga-life has shifted. And, so far at least, I have always come back stronger than ever. I love the practices that I do get to have. I love the classes that I do get to teach, and the students who are there. I love writing and reading and researching and planning no matter how much or little time I get to do those things on any given day.
Yoga is hard! It's hard even when we are lucky enough to have everything happening just right, when there are no obstacles or conflicts, when we feel energized and focused and capable. And it is really f---ing hard when that's not the case. And it is OK, even necessary, to admit that, and to choose taking a nap over Down-dog once in the while. Maybe someday the balance will shift back for me to a whole lot of yoga and just a little bit of everything else. Maybe it won't. But I am a Yogi; a student and a teacher. It is the home I get to take with me everywhere I go. It is as essential to me as my humanity. And that will be true even if I never unroll another sticky mat. Or wriggle into another pair of leggings.
"The [path of yoga]...can be summed up individually as "Getting more of what I genuinely desire and less of what I don't." The trick is to recognize which is which and then act on it. The paradox arises in that to train ourselves to achieve this, we have to start by doing a fair bit of what we don't want to do, and rather less of what we think we do. Yoga calls this tapas, which I've translated as sustained courageous practice. The French philosopher Descartes said happiness does not consist in acquiring the things we think will make us happy, but in learning to like doing the things we have to do anyway. Try this when you're waiting for a late train or doing the washing up" (Iyengar, Light on Life, 112).