I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I take my yoga like a drug. Yes, I know this ancient spiritual practice is “supposed” to be about stilling the thoughts of the mind, realizing the true self, calming the body to prepare it for deep meditation, and all those spiritually sophisticated Patanjali spoke about in the Yoga Sutras. But sometimes, I confess, I want nothing more than that crazy rush of adrenaline I get at the end of a vigorous, exhausting vinyasa class. Yup, I hate to admit it, but on some days I’m one of those yogis. When things get too hectic in my day-to-day, I find my high in sending my feet over my head, playing games with gravity, sweating until my adrenals are churning out so many endorphins that my mind literally can’t think about anything but the next inhale and exhale. What I want on those days is a high. It’s not always what I need.
Coming to (my first) yoga festival and having the opportunity to study with teachers from all different styles of practice, I knew I had a unique opportunity before me to experience something different than my normal routine. But, oh, the pull of the familiar. Like an addict looking to get her fix, I Googled each teacher’s name on the Hanuman Yoga Festival schedule, scanning the bios for those magical little yogic words. “Vinyasa”, “Flow”, “Power”, “Invigorating… you know, the cleverly subtle language yogis use to mask the true message: THIS CLASS IS GONNA KICK YOUR @$$. And know what came up when I did my Google background check on the first teacher on my list– Tiffany Cruikshank? A video from Nike showcasing a toned and sculpted woman gliding from crow to tripod to scorpion like a fish in water… as if the rules of physics didn’t apply.
So I signed up. Meh, I thought. I’ll get the meditation in later. I want my yoga high. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a part of me that longs for the mental workout involved in the “less dynamic” (Tiffany’s words, not mine), more still and introspective practices. There’s a wisdom within that knows that’s what I need. But that’s not what I want. The child within wants to flip upside down, do some yoga-style gymnastics, get the quick fix that mind-numbing endorphin high.
You can’t always get what you want.
And if you try sometime
You just might find you get what you need.
Somehow, no matter how hard I fight to get what I want, Life always tosses my plans to the wind and gives me just what I need instead. Tiffany’s class was not the high-flying, hootin’ & tootin’, crazy arm balance class I was expecting. No, I knew the moment she set the stage with an introductory lecture on the parasympathetic nervous system (if it’s been a long time since your high school biology class, think rest and digest) that I probably wasn’t going to get the fast-moving class I’d been craving.
Instead, I found nourishment. Through a series slow, methodical kriyas; curiously challenging pranayama exercises; and blissfully invigorating mini-savasanas I received the soul-food that the universe had guided me toward. The practice brought me to contentment rather than happiness, acceptance rather than pleasure, peace instead of an endorphin-induced buzz. Instead of pushing my body to its edge, my breath introduced my mind to itself. In the long holds and spaces between postures, I became aware of patterns in my breathing I’d never noticed before.
As Tiffany encouraged us to “sit down and have a meal with your breath” (mmmmm, oxygen! food for your cells), I observed my tendency to linger in my exhales– to skip the process of taking in and hover in the giving out. I felt myself pulled toward the emptiness at the end of each exhale, speeding through the inspiration in order to get back into the being empty. Cue mini-svanasana. As my eyes shut down and my body relaxed, I found a sacred pause, a moment for introspection. Why, I wondered, was I having such a hard time nourishing myself? What was it in me that was resistent to the process of taking in, to accepting what I need?
I stepped off my mat in a different state of mind. There certainly was no endorphin-induced high, but I did experience an altered state of a different sort. My back and chest muscles were on fire, all excited and abuzz from the deceptively simple exercise of breathing with purpose and control. My senses were so attuned I could feel the blood pulsing in my finger tips, my heart thudding in my chest, the little twitches of the tired muscles between my ribs. Talk about raising the vibration.
But most importantly, my mind was quiet, peaceful and at rest. Life – 1; Chelsea – 0. Alright, universe, you win again.
Or maybe I do too. As I rolled out of bed and hit shuffle on my ipod this morning, I could hardly believe it when the first song to start playing was the Rolling Stones classic. You can’t always get what you want. But you try sometimes, you just might find…. you get what you need.
Do you find that what you desire in your yoga practice is different from what you actually need?