Why I Quit Yoga and Got Better Because of It
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Where did you go? People ask. You just left. They say.
Indeed. Off into the desert I go. Here we go again.
Quitting the upper-tiers of formal yoga training has allowed me to wrestle with my nature privately: to explore, essentially, the romance of solitude and learning and the nature of my personal commitment to my Divine Creativity.
I practiced the fine art of laziness. I welcomed the sea of grief. I relaxed. I focused. I inspired myself. I came to the same experience of discovery that any art or "godswork" leads to: honoring "the Innate" --wisdom-within-as-without.
You've heard of it: the stuff romantic poets write about-- and we also find and create fixed courses of action for ourselves: training that keeps us organized, focused, learning, controlled, and responsible. Yoga in my life has been one of the exemplars of an activity that shows me both ways. And both of these components are necessary for a person to thrive to themselves alone and to create meaning in their lives.
That's my point. We need relaxation and freedom. And concentration and focus. Duty. Responsibility. Both relaxation and concentration lead us to inspiration.
Truly, I have dropped in and out of yoga classes for about twenty years now that it's really a way of life, to go in and out. But never have I gone in so deeply to study and make a career of teaching yoga and then to leave it and practice on my own, at home. It was a good decision. More than the career and public networking, I wanted the practice. I wanted to go off into the woods on my own to see if I could and would live and practice, as Thoreau said, "deliberately."
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...” Walden, or Life in the Woods
I felt good to put down the books. I had no burn-out. I was at the top of my game. It was a great time to retire, I felt. but it wasn't an easy decision. I wrestled alone in the woods. I wrestled with my sloth and laziness, my inner critic. I isolated and grew detached. But eventually, after a year and a half, I balanced out again. I am BETTER now at yoga because I appreciate it in a NEW way. I never knew my relationship with myself could be so interesting.
I like observing the formality, the structure, the confinement, and the attention to studying a book. It's not the breaking free and going my own way that gives me strength or pleasure or confidence (in fact it's horrifying and painful), but it's the knowledge that I find my way back, eventually. That there's nothing external and requisite. Just me. It's all me, anyway. After years and years, I see that my yoga life and career has been a blessing; the practice so special, so intimate, that I know, like a limb or an organ, I'm blessed to have it and it's MINE. It is very easy to sell ourselves out to teachers, as you probably know yourself from experience. But to go one's own way? To take responsibility for observing "HOW one quits," "WHY one quits," "IF one quits, really," and "WHAT quitting even really means."
I'm a better person now that I quit yoga and have found my way back to it again. And you probably know from your own life what quitting something can mean and teach you. Lesson learned? Trite sounding but so real. It's a journey. Yoga, Art, the creative process, a business relationship, a relationship with oneself. Self-love.
Sometimes, we just know things. And whether it's knowledge about your true love, knowledge about a way of life that's best for you, knowledge about a "calling" or "purpose" that you shun or ignore for a while, or simply can't shun or ignore for very long without feeling extreme discomfort or suffering-- well, those are important observations and really the stuff of life worth heeding.
What is your yoga? Regardless of the path or the action, we can practice relaxing, concentrating, and finding inspiration in something we are drawn to-- whatever you enjoy-- whatever your "bliss," DO IT. And if you quit it, for whatever reason, own it. Then observe yourself. I bet you know what I mean. You get it. That's my point.
The purpose of this blog post is NOT to knock any formal yoga classes at all, but rather to praise them (especially Iyengar classes) to the highest degree possible. For without my formal yoga training, I would not know at all how to help myself grow independently as a practitioner. The incredible detail and near- fanaticism that I allowed myself to have not with the culture of yoga (dear me) or the publications, or magazines, or star-status of some (ugh), but the wonderful detail-oriented practice that Iyengar yoga teaches us all and affords us, is the most special experience of my life besides my writing and academic studies in Literature and of course hanging out with my family and absorbing all of their beauty and wisdom just being in their presence. Few other things in life have helped me to open my heart and soul, to life up my heart, so to speak, than yoga, the art of writing in particular (since it was my chosen medium after a lot of struggle-- but that's another blog post for another day. For now, let me just express how obsessed and in love I have been with formal yoga training and the practice of learning postures, breathing, and meditation.
It all started at the ripe age of ten or eleven. I was in the fifth grade and came across a book called Yoga is for Me! Since we could check out books from our school library every Friday, I would repeatedly check out this book. It was light, thin, with a brown hard cover and yellow or white lettering. On the cover was a a yogi wearing all white. His hair was wrapped and he had a long beard. I was fascinated with his asana, all the poses and pictures of his folded and seemingly tangled limbs, interlocking torso and head and legs around his neck. How did he do that!? "Why do you like that book so much?" Others snickered. It was brown, plain, hard-covered, and weird. Not like soft and brightly-colored Ramona or SuperFudge! books. The images were probably black and white. I read the text, too, but I don't recall much of what it said, but I must have read it dozens of times. I started to practice poses at home in the livingroom or in my bedroom where I would light a candle and close my door. "What are you doing in here?" My mom would peek in. "I'm meditating." "Oh, okay," she said. She's to this day been my greatest yoga fan and student. My mom took a Polaroid photo of me doing "upavistha konasana" in a red "onesie" pajama set. The white plastic feet and all. Life was good. I was on my way.
My teaching has highlighted the Iyengar tradition, attending to alignment, the supportive use of props, and a mindfulness of each student's body strengths and needs. I bring both poetry and a vast educational background to my classes. As a lover of creative writing, running, and teaching, I've enjoyed encouraging diverse levels and abilities of students, with various interests and experience with yoga--many none at all. I also have been greatly influenced by the ancient lineage of Tibetan Yantra Yoga, a fantastic lineage of yoga derived from the great master, Vairochana. I have participated in workshops and classes with Matthew Sanford, Rodney Yee, Scott Hobbs, H.S. Arun, Satya Narayana Dasa, and Edwin Bryant, a brilliant scholar whose book on the Yoga Sutras (and forthcoming, I understand, on Bhagavad Gita), one shouldn't put down for long.
Formally, I began studying yoga in 1999 while a graduate student at UMass, Amherst. My first class was a Kundalini class. I studied that for an entire semester at UMass. I loved it. But everything changed when I started doing Iyengar Yoga. I trained and studied from a book throughout ten years of graduate school and travel, and then in 2010, I became a certified teacher of Hatha yoga from the same teacher I met in 1998. Eileen Muir. That year, I opened my own yoga studio in Massachusetts but I wanted more training and closed the business to continue training. Wanting to pursue training in the specialized practice of Iyengar yoga, I moved to the East Bay to study at the Iyengar Yoga Institute (IYISF). I have studied on and off formally for six years, earning another teaching certificate, and never climbing the Iyengar hierarchy that is probably equivalent to a PhD in terms of commitment, effort, and money.
My formal yoga asana practice is formally, masterfully, articulated by Sri BKS Iyengar. My daily sadhana, or personal practice, includes physical practice (asana); breathing practice (pranayama); and regular "sitting" or meditation practice. In addition to meditating for over thirty years, the brightest, almost "mystical" component of my spiritual life has been lucid meditation, and visualization practice. As I've come to see for myself through experience, "doing Yoga" is so various for all, as our sadhana includes all of us--all of you, all of me--but through our lenses of focus and personal discovery, we co-create. And that is Light. That is Love.
Image Citation: Thank you to the creators of the Henry David Thoreau Memorial Photograph and website via Wikipedia at https://goo.gl/zgia9k