Of Lotus Pose and Louboutins

“She talked too much! I wanted to be like, ‘Oh my God, shut up!'”

I overheard a woman say this yesterday about the substitute teacher who had just led our yoga class. I found it funny since I had only attended the class because that particular instructor was teaching it and I love how much she talks. And by “talks” I mean she explains the philosophy behind the sequence she has chosen for that day’s class and guides the class through breath work and visualizations to help get the most physically and mentally out of each pose. I suspect the woman I overheard, who was very fit and in head-to-toe Lululemon, was complaining about the ‘talking’ because she had been there just for the calorie-out and abs-toned exercise.

I can sympathize with that approach to yoga since I too used to think of yoga as just another way to move my external appearance closer to the ideal of what some elusive “they” said I should try to look like. There was a time when I too would have wanted the instructor to cut the crap and get on with the workout. I’m not sure when it was I actually started listening to the ‘talk’ from instructors like the one yesterday, but at some point I discovered that the external-only ‘workout’ approach to yoga didn’t get me very far. A physical-fitness driven practice of yoga is fine if it works for you, but for me it led to more self-frustration than self-realization. Approached that way, I found my brain growing frustrated and fighting with my body about what it was supposed to do and how it was supposed to look. It was only when I stopped treating yoga as a way to change the way I physically appeared to the world and started treating it as an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate my internal and external self and their connection to the world beyond me that I was able to achieve any of the more difficult poses—including poses which I noticed the complaining woman yesterday could not do despite appearing much physically ‘fitter’ than me. Yoga started working for me, and I started enjoying it, when it became an opportunity to trust my body instead of hating on it and telling it to change. For me, that required listening to the philosophical and meditative ‘talk’ about the mind, and not just shutting it out while I tried to sweat as much as I could.

So what does any of my yoga self-realization nonsense have to do with No New Nothing? Well, both are about mindfulness: mindfulness of the meaning and happiness that we are actually giving and getting out of our time in the world. My initial ‘get fit’ approach to yoga was so focused on trying to look a certain way to impress other people that I missed the opportunity to learn about and appreciate my whole internal and external self. Similarly, the obsession with having clothes and things that will impress others and raise our status in their eyes can obscure thinking about the impact of those things on our world and whether we actually enjoy those things ourselves. One clear example of this that I’ve talked about on this blog recently (and that I won’t go into again here, although las week was London Fashion Week and an opportune time to think about these issues) is our indifference to the impact fashion and the clothing industry have on the environment. It is easy to get so hung up on physical appearances and the fleeting impressions we make, to get hung up on the pursuit of attractiveness and status in the eyes of others, that we forget to ask ourselves why we are here and what it is we want to make of our time in the world.

In short, whether it is yoga or clothes, our societal obsession with appearance and status often leaves us less mindful of whole ourselves and the people and things around us. Maybe we would get more out of our relationship with our ‘stuff’ if we treated it, like yoga, as an opportunity to think beyond short-term physical appearances toward a more meaningful and thankful relationship with the wider world around us.

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