Friday, November 8, 2013

Letter to Zuri From Rachel (How Yoga Works- Roach & McNally)


Dear Zuri,

You have been on my mind again lately and I am wondering how you are spending your days. I know you have been reading the book How Yoga Works and I just finished it.  I don’t know many other people who have read it so I wanted to tell you about it. This book is very powerful; although it reads like a bedtime story. If you would like, as you read it in the future, you can picture me sitting right there reading it with you; reading it to you. So here are some of my reflections about the book and about what it was like to read the book.  I wonder if you are thinking something similar. I wonder if you understand it the way I do. I wonder if you understand me.


For as long as I can remember I have been a reader and therefore a thinker. On many occasions I have been drawn to reading as a source of knowledge, adventure, companionship, and solace. The more I read the more I believed I had learned about the world. I have always preferred fiction to non-fiction because I feel it is more honest and less confined. If I had read a non-fiction book about how yoga works there is no question that my thoughts would be full of facts or statistics about poses and history but something within myself would be missing.

My original thought about how yoga works, which may seem like a strange comparison, is that it works like the rain dance. The rain dance always works because people do not stop dancing until it rains. I realize now that yoga is much more complex than this (as is the rain dance for that matter) however, there is something about it that seems so simple and so logical. It appears to just work like magic.

In order to fully understand How Yoga Works I found myself reflecting greatly on how it does not work. It does not work with American culture or French postmodern philosophy, both of which have greatly influenced my life thus far. I have spent entirely too much time reading and pondering books by Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Attwood and all their contemporaries for a myriad of reasons; all of which are too lengthy to discuss here. In short, I suppose that I believed they had answers to life, they could tell me the secret and elucidate a world that seemed to make no sense. Something in their words spoke to me. Somewhere in all the millions of words on thousands of pages, I would find the peace and refuge to make sense of life. For a while I honestly believed I had.

I learned that individuals co-exist and live parallel to one another; we can try to connect with others but this is impossible. We are closer to some than others and we develop our preferences. Individualism is the greatest hope for happiness; being self-sufficient will safeguard you from hardship or tragedy. Life is a zero sum game; if you fail at something it is because you did not try hard enough, you were not competitive enough, you did not want it enough, you were weak and let your feelings for others get in the way. This is not how yoga works.

As I write it down it all sounds so absurd-who would believe this? Whatever those teachings were it does not matter because at the time they were exactly what I needed. Along the way however, things I have encountered in my life, good, bad, indifferent, started to not quite fit and I began to question, as I tend to do. Little by little I branched out in different directions; some I was quite aware of and others I would assume occurred by accident.  Like a good existentialist I believed the world had no order. Things merely are, there is no need to worry about justice or why bad things happen. They just do. Upon reflection I would say I was planting seeds, very small seeds. I was learning patience and kindness.

I remember when I first glanced at How Yoga Works I thought, “400 pages! I must be a masochist to take an elective with this amount of work in my final semester!” Nonetheless, I am a person that when I decide to do something I commit fully and therefore, I began the arduous task of reading this absurdly long book. I also remember early on that I had no schedule for reading it except that when I had a few minutes or if I were to reach for one of my leisure books I would make the effort to read this book instead. 

I noted that the book seemed to be like a fortune cookie; I would often read a section and say wow that is exactly what I was thinking or needed to hear! Naturally, I believed that I must be exactly on schedule with my reading and practice because I was following the same progression as the Captain. This made me feel good.  Next I noticed in class that certain things Professor said during lecture or new aspects she touched on in our practice were also things I was reading in the book and was curious about. I found myself astonished at her precision and accuracy; she must have taught using this book many, many times and can tell where we are at in our reading and practice. I watched this wonderful, almost childlike story unfold in front of me and I was hooked. I noticed the book popped up in many aspects of my life, unlike other school and textbooks that only seemed applicable to my work or academic life.

With self-attunement and mindful practice we develop a secure attachment with ourselves. I wrote this down in my notes one class and I have reflected on it many times; both in my everyday life and my silent sitting. When I think about all the good that came from Friday working with all the people in the jail, really it occurred because they each began to reconnect with the self. Yes, she taught different poses and ideas but in the end all those poses and ideas came naturally from the individual when they were self-attuned and attached. One must go through the work of reconnecting with the self, rather than working to suppress it or change it. 

This is very different work than I am used to. In fact I have worked very hard to disconnect from myself in many ways. I must suppress the child in me so that I can be an adult, I must change the woman inside me in order to be successful in a masculine world, I must not pay attention to my intuition when the facts are telling me something else. Yoga works because it allows the individual to reconnect all these things, whatever they may be, and help shape not just the individual but also the people around the individual. This reconnection sends out ripples (or seeds) into the world that an individualist is just too close to the puzzle to see.

I do not think that my personal growth or new found connection to myself is equal to a plan put into place 30 years ago to change an entire ancient empire but I do think that this is exactly how yoga works. It is being open to that possibility. The work I am doing right now (which at times makes very clear sense and others makes no sense) is seemingly miniscule but I have noticed how it has affected several people in my life in ways I had not anticipated; even my dog seems calmer when I do my practice.

I am not sure if I have fully answered the questions of how yoga works, but to me it is starting to make sense. It has not been easy, as changing a worldview can be a lifelong process, but I feel more aware of my place in the world, I feel less reactive, and I am open to the idea that perhaps this life is not nearly as random or meaningless as I have perceived it to be. I think the most important lesson in this book is the instillation of hope. Whether you are a Prince undercover or a woman on a journey, whatever this seemingly random world throws your way you can always choose to be hopeful.

I hope this letter finds you well Zuri and I look forward to talking in the future. Please remember you are never alone (even when there is not a soul in sight).
                                                                                    
Love,
Rachel

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