The Yoga Problem

My mom  helps organize a tennis tournament for charity every year. She went to meet with one of the business dudes involved in sponsorship or something, and he kept going on and on about his daughter who got into some grad school and scored in the top whatever percent of something or other. He then asked my mom what her kids were up to. My mom is just as excited as I am about all of this, so I can imagine her smile, how happy she must have been to finally be able to talk about me after hearing about this guy’s daughter for fifteen minutes.

“Actually, my oldest daughter just graduated from college and she’s heading off to Savannah to train to be a yoga teacher!” I can picture the energy beaming from her face.

Can you guess how Mr. Business dude responded? If you can believe it, he literally apologized to my mom.

“Oh, I’m SO sorry,” he said, probably with eyes wider and filled with more pity than the first time his daughter got a B+.

I don’t know anything about this man. I don’t know anything about his perception of yoga. I’ve realized though, that a lot of people are like this, they don’t understand how someone could be happy doing anything other than being a doctor or owning some company or getting voted into office. But mainly, I think, he doesn’t understand how I could be happy without money. Lots of it.

I’m not about to say that money isn’t something I care about. I want money. I want money so I can see this world and drink good wine and give my future kids an education in whatever they’re interested in. Unlike that guy, I don’t want money just for the sake of having money. Maybe I’m judging him, (okay, I am judging him) but rather than expensive cars, yachts, brand-name clothing (lululemon excluded), diamonds, private jets…give me a plane ticket and a map. That’s what I want money for.

Every day, I become more thankful and more aware of the values my parents instilled in me. Thank you Mom and Dad, for showing me how to be brave.

Okay, so we’ve solved the whole that-guy-is-an-asshole piece of this puzzle. On to the other part, the more important part, what I like to call The Yoga Problem. Yoga is, in my opinion, very misunderstood by Westerners. Myself included-I sometimes still can’t really wrap my head around it, and I have been to many classes where the teacher obviously can’t either. But we can’t blame ourselves, our culture makes it difficult to really understand what yoga has to teach us because our minds aren’t conditioned to think this way. We were brought up like this: if you eat your vegetables, you can have ice cream. So the only reason why we eat our vegetables is to get the ice cream. Or how about this one: if you go to college, you will get a job (such bullshit). So, we grind through college in order to get a job. Then, we get a job, and the only reason we work is so we can get money. Do you see this cycle? Our society and culture tells us that all of our work being done in the present moment should lead to a greater goal, for something we don’t have. We are only doing things right now in order to get something in the tomorrow, the 2011, in the retirement plan. And all of this comes at a very large price-we have completely, without even knowing it, lost the now. We have lost the present moment.

Take for example, something as simple as washing your hair. (This section of my post is inspired entirely by The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, I did not come up with these revelations by myself! Just in my own words.) Think about why you wash your hair. You probably haven’t thought about this before. Most likely, you wash your hair so you can have clean hair. You get in the shower, lather up and rinse, with the sole intent of getting clean. But with this attitude, so much is lost. Yoga teaches us to approach this in a different way. It tells us to (and it may sound silly at first) wash your hair in order to wash your hair. Do you even know what washing your hair really feels like? Could you explain it to someone who has never done it before (Alex after Day 15 of the road trip)? Do you even realize that washing your hair feels good? Most of us just stand there, scrubbing away, watching the soap and the now go down the drain. We lose all present-moment pleasures.

Yoga is only recently popular in Western society. I believe that the only reason why it has become so attractive is because of its associated health benefits. Most of us don’t do yoga for the simple sake of doing yoga. We do it to lose weight, decrease stress, become more flexible, what have you. And while these things are benefits to the practice, they should not be sole the reason for practice. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on what yoga truly is. Or at least what yoga is to me.

Climbers know what I’m talking about. There is a beautiful climbing spot in Berkeley called Indian Rock. On one side of the main rock, there are carved-in stairs leading up to the top. The other side is where people climb. As I climb, people like to inform me, “you know there are stairs on the other side of this thing” or “why go through all that trouble when there are stairs leading up to the top?” These people are half kidding, but they really don’t understand why we climb. Climbers climb because they love to climb, not because they love getting to the top of rocks. Otherwise, yeah, we would take the stairs.

Yoga is movement. The title of this blog. I’ve found that the things I love to do are, in simplest terms, movement: climbing, traveling, running, writing. Obviously, physical movement is involved in these activities. But another kind of movement is happening here too. I am a strong believer that our physical bodies are infinitely connected to our mental minds, so when we have movement physically, through asanas, through climbing, anything like this, our minds are also moving. This mental movement brings us to a more centered, right-here-in-this-moment kind of state. And that is a really precious and uncommon thing to experience these days.

Back to asshole business man dude who felt so sorry for me and my life choices that he actually apologized to my mom. Maybe he is a happy, fulfilled person from how he lives his life. I do hope that he is happy, but I wish he could see that other people can enjoy life without the bells and whistles, without having some main-stream job. The Yoga Problem, in his case, doesn’t apply to his practice (because he doesn’t practice yoga, obviously)–it applies to his entire life. He puts so much importance on the future, so much so that he has sorrow in his heart for people who aren’t like him. It’s sad. I bet that guy hasn’t ever truly washed his hair. Not even once. Otherwise, he would understand.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Megan Gala
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 14:33:39

    Know that I’m cheering you on all the way, George. Its not just your mom beaming that smile and excitement for you, I am too! I’m so proud of you and let me know if I can help you in any way on your journey. Lots of love!


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