Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yogis, Yoga-bots, and Yoga-doers

Yesterday in the Kundalini class I attended, the teacher referred to our class of novices as “Yogis” which struck me as odd.  Kundalini is a bit odd on its own (more on that in a later post), but this particular phrase became a sort of capstone of oddness for the whole evening.  I have never been called a “yogi” before and I always assumed it was a term only given to the most serious practitioners of yoga: that strange breed of person who actually pays attention to the alignment of their chakras and uses the word “karma” in a completely serious, not-sarcastic way. 

So, because I’m a complete dork and language fascinates me, I went online and looked the term “yogi” up.  The results caused only MORE confusion.  Merriam-Webster defines “yogi” as:
         1.  a person who practices yoga
         2.  capitalized : an adherent of Yoga philosophy
         3.  a markedly reflective or mystical person

So, according to definition 1, I could be a yogi!  I’m, after all, a person who practices yoga.  However, neither of the other definitions really apply to me, and I hadn’t even considered whether or not capitalization changes the meaning of the word.  Is a lower-case yogi a lower level of yoga practitioner than the all-powerful, mystical upper-case Yogi? 

A Wikipedia search further complicated the whole issue.  Stop shaking your head at me and scoffing under your breath.  You know you use Wikipedia as a trustworthy source when you’re researching, don’t lie.  Anyway, Wikipedia has the following to say about the word “yogi” (note the lack of capitalization in the wikipedia definition.)

A yogi or yogin (Sanskrit: योगी, feminine root: yogini) is a term for a male practitioner of
various forms of spiritual practice. In contemporary English yogin is an alternative rendering for the word yogi. [1] Another rendering is the word Jogi (یوگی) which is mostly used to refer to wandering Sufi saints and ascetics. In Hinduism it refers to an adherent of Yoga. The word is also often used in the Buddhist context to describe Buddhist monks or a householder devoted to meditation. Chatral Rinpoche for example is a famous wandering yogi from Tibet.
The Shiva Samhita text defines the yogi as someone who knows that the entire cosmos is situated within his own body, and the Yoga-Shikha-Upanishad distinguishes two kinds of yogins: those who pierce through the "sun" (surya) by means of the various yogic techniques and those who access the door of the central conduit (sushumna-nadi) and drink the nectar.

... So... there’s that.  Great.  Thanks Wikipedia that helped a lot. Well, at least we now know that the word “yogi” rendered in Sanskrit is really pretty.
So am I a yogi, a Yogi, a yogini or none of the above? Do you have a personal definition for the word “yogi” (and/or Yogi)?  What’s your favorite name for a person who does yoga?  (mine is “yoga-bot.”  Not sure who coined it, but I first heard it from Miriam Schildkret.)

And, most importantly, where can I get this “nectar” the writer of the Wikipedia definition was drinking?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Breathe, Lizard, Breathe

Why the 40 Day Challenge?
Anyone will tell you that I am not a model of physical fitness or self discipline.  I drink much more coffee than is really healthy, I eat when I’m not hungry, I use food as a motivator or a reward, I don’t always get enough sleep, and I have never been known for my dedication to daily exercise.  I am, in the immortal words of Lumiere, the anthropomorphic candle, “Flabby, fat, and lazy.” 

But the more I dedicate myself to really focusing on a daily yoga practice, the better I feel.  I view the 40 day challenge as a way to work with my natural desire to devote time to Yoga.  Having written my name on that little card and stuck it in that jar on the guru’s desk, I must do some form of yoga practice every day.  I have never done any physical activity for 75 minutes a day for 40 straight days.  I’m not even sure my total yoga practice amounts to that... but the cool thing about this challenge is if I skip a day here and there, if life gets in the way, that’s ok.  Nothing horrible will happen.  I can, however, strive for something better, and that’s what this is all about.

Now, understand, I don’t think yoga is some magical cure-all.  I don’t believe that sweating in a small room with 10-15 other sweaty people while we hold strange poses and breathe in funny ways is going to solve all the world’s problems, or even all of my problems.  I understand that to some people the word “yoga” is tantamount to the word “torture” and that’s ok.  For me, yoga works.  Its the only form of exercise I’ve found yet that physically challenges me and makes me feel good at the same time.  I’m doing the 40-day challenge because it seems like an achievable goal, because it challenges me in a good way, and because right now, at this rather tumultuous time in my life, I really need that 75 minutes to just focus on the way I’m breathing.  For me, that feeling of turning the focus entirely inward, of allowing myself that time to be completely internal and selfish is healthy. 

The Goal:
75 minutes of Yoga a day for 40 consecutive days, beginning Oct. 1st.  (Ideally that’s 40 straight days of studio practice, but I’m allowing myself one day a week of home practice if I need it.)

Additionally, my long-term goal (it may take over a year to accomplish) is to build up enough strength to do a headstand.  I am actually writing this after my 4th consecutive class, and today, I lifted my feet into the air about 2 inches.  For me, that’s a serious accomplishment.

If you have any questions or comments about the 40 Day Challenge (or anything else), post them!

Look! Another Blog!

I have been sitting on this domaine embarrassingly long time.  Now that I feel I have something actually interesting to write about, I thought I’d try this out (again).  Most of my attempts at blogging have ended in dismal failure, but I have high hopes for this one!

In a moment of madness, I agreed to participate in a 40 Day Yoga Challenge the yoga studio I practice at (Yoga Yoga) is running.  Many of you have asked me questions about the challenge, what it entails, and why I'm doing it, and in the process of answering your questions, I realized I didn't actually know the answers.  And, of course, this blog was just languishing around feeling sorry for itself.   It seemed logical to use this space to talk about the challenge and my progress. 

Hopefully, the next post (I'm considering it the inaugural post since this one's mainly business) will answer a lot of the questions you already have asked me.  If it sparks more questions or comments post those thoughts in the comment section!  I'm hoping this can turn into more of a conversation than a bunch of journal entries thrown haphazardly into cyberspace.  For the next 40 days, I'll talk mostly about the 40-Day challenge, but not exclusively.

What is the 40-Day Challenge?
Yoga Yoga challenges its students to practice yoga at their studio every day for 40 consecutive days.  Apparently some researcher has decided that it takes 40 days to establish a new habit, so the idea is that yoga practitioners can use the 40 Day Challenge to establish a new habit of yoga practice.  It makes sense, actually. If I can practice yoga every day for the next 40 days, I can go to a yoga class three times a week for the rest of the year.