Taking inventory

I’ve been debating with myself why I stick with yoga. It’s been two years since I started. Why don’t I switch to Pilates or tai chi or spinning or jogging. How and why do I find the commitment to set aside two-hour sessions three/four days a week, plus my daily practice? Why am I willing to submit myself to the ordeal of pushing myself as far as I can and failing frequently to get poses right, even falling over on my face.

Someone asked me if it’s because I am afraid of growing old, that yoga is a way of turning back the clock. There’s an element of personal vanity. Although there may be some truth to that statement, it does not satisfy me as a complete answer. In a sense, I am returning to a pivotal point in my life.

I think this commitment to yoga has to do with my upbringing and psychological makeup. My father was a pastor, and family life was centered around the church and its calendar. I was raised to fit the mold of a PK (preacher’s kid) — a kind of compliant “goody two-shoes.” I was not competitive or demanding because I had been taught that if I sat still in the pew and did not make a ruckus, I would eventually be rewarded. So I had to hold off gratification until “my turn” came.

This approach hit a speed bump in life when I had to transition from the shelter of the parsonage to the rough-and-tumble real world (in school, in romance, in the workplace), from the holy shelter of sanctuary to the external world that seemed to run under a completely different premise. For the most part, I was scared out of my wits. I was constantly searching for the equivalent of the 10 Commandments of getting ahead and the safe haven of church-like institution in the secular world. Most businesses or institutions don’t work that way. I wanted to understand how the real world worked. Much of my frustration was trying to duplicate the formula of my childhood in the workplace — looking for a father figure who would reward me for being a good boy. I had a hard time finding a viable formula. When I did rebel against what I perceived as a paternal relations, it was for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. I frequently just left a job, just as I “ran away” from home when I was 23.

The seeds of depression are lodged deep within my physical body, a kind of motor memory that takes place when an event or emotional reaction triggers one of these depressive nerves, it startles me. It’s the residue left in my body of all the psychological struggles in my search for adulthood and the self-inflicted stress that I created. Instinctively, I felt threatened. This stress is lodged in rigid shoulders, hips and spine and suspended breathing. I fight to reverse the stoop to my shoulders and the stiffness in my hips because I sense that something more runs deeper — my own disassociation from my body, my internalization of stress within the structure of bone and fiber. By working at yoga, I am trying to break through these barriers — barricades of my depressive past and my unresolved relationship with the world.

Here is where the yoga comes in:

  • Yoga is like going back to the basics, starting over at the foundation.
  • Yoga is a reconciliation with my own body. As a child, I felt disconnected from my body. I was never a good athlete because I feared competing with others. My body was tense — I learned to swim because I could not float.
  • Yoga is a search for the sacred inside me, rather than referenced to my parents, my family, my vocation, my workplace or church.
  • With yoga, I do not have to strive — the fruits come at their own speed. The rewards come unexpectedly. It’s like when I was an obedient, submissive child, but this time around the yoga allows for my self-liberation.
  • Elsewhere, I said that I wish I had known of yoga as an adolescent because it would have been a great “user’s manual” for a teenager or young adult trying to get through the bewildering tangle of hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • I sense that my depression is deeply lodged in my muscles, fascia and bones. While I may not be in a depressive funk, it still lingers as a risk. Certain kinds of stimuli will provoke an almost automatic depressive response. Yoga is my physical therapy.
  • It’s non-competitive, even though there is always the temptation to spy on others in the class, but I find that once in the flow my focus is inwards.
  • I have to discover the real “rules of the game” by exploring internally and externally.
  • On one level, yoga’s foundation is nonverbal.