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Yoga Creates Problems


Wanna know a secret? Yoga creates problems. Big problems. Forget the marketing promises of waltzing through life with a carefree mind, popping into handstand at the beach, and sipping an organic kombucha-tini while your caveman friends still slug their IPAs. If you take it seriously, yoga will get you right where you live, at the heart of the existential problem:  the ego. At the heart of it, yoga messes with your mind. That is its very purpose. If our fundamental problem is the stranglehold of attachments on an otherwise pure consciousness, then the perpetrators must be dealt with one by one. Take what you’ve accomplished – physical beauty, lucrative business deals, admirable personality traits, excellent parenting skills, academic credentials, even the joy of fulfilling relationships – and unhinge yourself. Or, more accurately, unhinge your identity, the way you subtly absorb value through all these external factors. We know that anything that can change will change, so attaching our identity there is like pouring a concrete foundation in the sand. In service of the higher mind, yoga takes those hard earned medals of self-esteem and dangles them precariously over the edge of a cliff, threatening to drop-kick them into the void the moment you reach out to grasp them. If your body is flexible, an honest yoga practice will challenge you not to rely on mobility of your joints, whether God-given or painstakingly earned. She will blast through the walls of ego with a sledgehammer, shattering the misguided assumption that cocktail-party poses signify spiritual value. If you are an accomplished athlete, well, look out there too. Yoga pulls the rug out from the very things you train so hard for – winning, endurance, achievement, ignoring pain. You may pump 200 lbs. in the weight room but when you reach around to clasp your hands behind your back, you suddenly find there’s nothing but air. If you have a lazy bone in your body, yoga will thrust it into your awareness. If you harbor judgments or underneath your ‘yogic’ demeanor, she will saunter down the line like a drill sergeant and confront the misaligned thinking. If you dislike the qualities of Teacher A, those qualities will suddenly show up in everyone around you. If you have to “flow” before stillness, you will be asked to hold a pose longer than you thought was humanly possible. If you value the parasympathetic benefits of ‘yin yoga,’ she will poke at your mind relentlessly, stirring the cozy embers of complacency to spark the discovery of what has too long been ignored. Don’t buy the hype that when you can tolerate certain relatives or nail a headstand in the center of the room you will be a yogi. Because just when your mind reaches toward that trophy of personal achievement, yoga will drop you hard and plunge you head-first into the water, into another level of growth that couldn’t be conceptualized from your former vantage point. This is the purifying baptism of yoga and it continues until you are no longer housed in this body or -- by fate or grace -- discover a way to let go of the thoughts which constructed your identity to begin with. Eventually you will see that there is no escape, and whatever it is you find comfort in will evaporate. Yoga asks us, over and over again, to look within. Look at the patterns of the mind, look at your reactions, your intentions, your insecurities, the nearly undetectable ways you carefully manage your ego, the flickers of jealousy you pretend you don’t have. Look beyond the physical to the energetic mechanics underlying your thinking.  If you stick with it, you can’t go very deep into the practice without confronting these things. And when you’re finally on your knees, a flash of liberation captures your attention like the Northern Lights, giving purpose to all the discomfort that came before. Epiphanies may come in many forms, but yoga requires steady, consistent practice that looks pretty ordinary from the outside. The mind -- having grown weary of its own vigilance -- eventually steps back, leaving space for lightness of spirit. Once you feel the tremor of the infinite, the soul can never again be limited by the mind. A new awareness accompanies you constantly, whether you like it or not, always tinkering with the assumptions, the attachments, the resistance. So take the bait that promises physical beauty, psychological integrity, and sustained calmness.  But save a little space for the squeamish and uncomfortable parts . . . because she can smell comfort a mile away.

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