When I first started practicing yoga, I had to really concentrate during class. Not only were the poses new to me, but also the language. The Sanskrit terms were difficult to remember, and instead reminded me of how I got C’s in seventh grade Latin.
Even if the teacher used English expressions, I still had to frantically search the room to figure out what a “Bird of Paradise” looked like—and to me it seemed more like “Bird of Lucifer’s Playground.”
The Physical Intricacies of Yoga
There are a LOT of details to be aware of when practicing yoga. Proper alignment is pivotal, so many teachers focus on the minutiae of the body to help achieve optimal positions.
I had been an athlete all my life, and I had never really concerned myself with the intricacies of my physical form. I was used to being told, “Kick the ball in that goal, throw the ball in that hoop, and hit the ball over that net.”
Yet with yoga, you have to consider each and ever fiber of your being. My third eye would wrinkle as the teacher suggested I connect to the outer edges of my pinky toe, melt into my heart, and lift my left interior deltoid while softening my latissimus dorsi.
There were so many things to keep track of—my mind was always racing as I tried to self-correct. I would get into Warrior I, for example, and my internal dialogue always sounded like this.
“I’m going to try and square my hips to the front… Whoops, now my front knee straightened. Okay, I’m going to bend deeper in that leg… Fuck! Now my shoulders are by my ears! Alright, I’m going to relax those down… Son of a Gaia—now my damn hips are all torqued.”
Yoga Doesn’t Have to Be All Serious
After a couple of years of dedicated practice, everything eventually became more familiar. I didn’t have to think as hard about what was going on. I could focus more on my breath, transitions, and drishti.
Yet yoga still felt like work to me. As I held Bound Half Moon, I would have a stern look on my face like I was going off to battle. There was a somber energy I exuded. I felt that yoga was serious because it was a serious practice that serious people did. I will find enlightenment goddammit, and that shit is serious!
Then one day in class, we were asked to hold Bound Side Angle for a particularly long time. My legs shaking, I started cursing the teacher in my mind. “Why are you doing this to us? I’m going to collapse if I have to hold this one more breath. This is torture! Come closer to me so I can punch you!”
I didn’t want to come out of the posture because I was there to challenge myself, but in order to keep myself in it, I felt I had to work even harder. I grimaced and strained to maintain. Then, the teacher said something that changed my whole perspective.
She turned my world around like pushing up to Headstand from Straddle. “Smile you guys, it is just yoga.”
Smiling as a Way of Life
Smiling is the most important yoga pose you will every practice.
A smile is not just about curling the corners of your lips, but rather an approach to life. The Buddha is not scowling, but laughing. He exudes joy even in the face of difficulty. His delight is contagious. That is the vibe we yogis must project out into the cosmos. We can’t take ourselves so seriously all the time.
We have to laugh at ourselves, because isn’t it silly that our legs are behind our heads?
Even though yoga is filled with complex ideas, intricate philosophy, and profound spiritual meaning—happiness is still the most important part. What is the point of all the work, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice if you are not happy?
There is nothing sadder than a yogi who only eats bark, wakes up at 3 A.M. to meditate, chants instead of talks, and is miserable. Life is not easy, but yoga helps us to appreciate the little things, have gratitude, and always remember to smile.