I often hear people proclaiming how in love they are with yoga, obsessed even. They must tell me, they have to share. They have a light in their eye and they are full of enthusiasm and energy. Being in love is wonderful, right? So why does this make me feel uncomfortable? Surely it’s not just because I’m a repressed Brit! 😉
I suppose (watch out, here’s the judgmental bit) I get the feeling that these self-proclaimed ‘lovers’ of yoga are actually more in love with themselves. They seem to love not yoga itself but their style of practicing it. They love the superficial trappings of the yogic lifestyle (as we live it in the West) with the Lululemon wardrobe and the latest diet craze, they love their yoga body and looking great, and they love counting the number of classes they’d clocked up in a week at their favourite studio, and which celebrity teachers they’d ticked off their list. Perhaps also add in a trip to India for the most love-struck.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this. But is it love? It seems more like a teenage romance. It feels oh-so-real at the time, but actually it’s mostly style over substance. And all that stuff is actually the easy bit. Sure, going to class can sometimes be a faff, truth be told. So we might feel as though we’re making a big effort to do so, when social engagements offer a competing siren call. Or we might complain we’re tired or sore but nobly doing it anyway. And designer yoga gear is expensive, so surely we’re somehow making a sacrifice by buying it at all? But that’s all superficial. It’s very material, it’s very ‘ego’. It’s all about us, our small selves, and it’s not what you might call Yoga with a capital Y.
I’m reminded of that famous passage in Louis de Bernières’ novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin about the difference between falling in love and being in love, where his character proclaims that any fool can fall in love, but that staying in love is a whole different game:
Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion… That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
I’ve been in love. I’ve been breathless with excitement. I understand the passion of a new relationship. And yoga is still a pretty new relationship for me. I still thrill at the seduction of asana and I juggle other commitments to fit around time with my new paramour.
But I wonder what genuine love for Yoga might feel like. Might I cross some subtle boundary, moving from being ‘in love’ to a state of ‘love’, evolving from my teenage, hormonal phase and entering into something quieter and more serious? After all it all feels pretty hard right now, and that’s usually a sign of development, right? I’m asking myself a lot of questions about how much I’m prepared to offer of myself, what compromises I might need to make (oh, you mean I need to change stuff about myself too? I can’t just ask you to fit to my ideal?), and where I’ll be when the going gets tough (in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer?). And despite (because of?) these difficulties I’m still hanging in with Yoga.
It feels distinctly unglamorous, with all the hard work going on behind closed doors, just between me and myself. I’m investing a lot when I’m not sure where it’s all going, keeping faith with Yoga, and cultivating a more meaningful relationship that isn’t all parties and date-night. Honestly I’m not sure I’m mature enough for it. I think Yoga and I will have quite a few shouting matches where I flounce out of the room full of righteous indignation over some perceived slight, only to crawl back later on full of remorse and renewed perspective, begging forgiveness.
I know there’s still way too much of my ego calling the shots in this relationship. I’m not selfless: I’m still asking what Yoga can do for me, when the wisdom tells me it could be the other way around. I’m still trying to get Yoga to agree to some pre-nup arrangement, where I get to cling on to the bits of my personality I most like and hoard all my emotional baggage as keepsakes from my former existence as a self-obsessed singleton. And I’m still too likely to do the yoga equivalent of running to my girlfriends when it all gets difficult and lapse into whining about how hard it all is, so they can hug me and tell me how great I am, and if Yoga doesn’t see that, then it doesn’t deserve me…
Or to put it another way: I’ve been whinging to my teacher recently about how difficult the practice is and how no-one else gets it, and aren’t I special for feeling all this stuff. Well, no. It’s just that I’m just starting to catch a glimpse of what this might all be about. And I’m a bit scared. I might not be up to it. But that’s OK. I might still be just a teenager in my emotional level, but even I’ve got over the ‘happy ever after’ of childrens’ fairytales. So that’s progress. The rest is just practice, right?
Maybe some day when I’m through with the whining stage, I’ll know my path. For now there are the footsteps…