By Claire Heywood
People generally tend to fit into polarized categories regarding perceptions of my job as a yoga instructor.
Either they have some understanding of the practice from experience, or they have watched the yoga industry boom from the foggy lens of popular culture and say something along the lines of, “You must be pretty flexible. Wait, I know one — downdog!”
I love this response because it presents a platform to clarify what yoga actually is: an opportunity to explore both the strength and flexibility of the body, which is a portal to the boundless potential of your particular soul.
I spend time attempting to reshape misconceptions of my work because I believe wholeheartedly in yoga’s power to catalyze the potential for embodiment (or conscious experience in the physical body), which exists in every human being.
To some degree, the power of yoga has been oversimplified and convoluted by popular culture. In taking a second look at yoga, I ask that readers wipe their minds clean of the conception of yoga as a workout class in which students become “uber-bendy.”
In my class, we typically begin in meditation, presenting the opportunity to let the regrets of the past and the anxieties of the future dissipate.
After meditation, we move into a series yoga poses carefully crafted to lead students to an empowering physical experience. At face value, the poses are nothing more than breathing into physical movement, because yoga sees the embodiment of the physical as a portal of entry into the vast experience of the human spirit.
When skeptics say they avoid yoga because they can’t touch their toes, I ask them to forget concepts of what they lack, because yoga is patient and non-competitive. The absence of flexibility is nothing to judge, but rather a starting point for growth. My life would be incredibly boring if I were perfectly flexible and strong; the joy is in the patient unraveling of tension over time.
When addressing the oversimplification of yoga as a flexibility class, teachers often utilize the metaphor of a seed: it contains boundless potential for expansion, but it must be planted into the container of the soil in order to grow.
In the same way, students of yoga can find incredible physical expansion when flexibility is rooted in a container of physical strength. Yoga, then, is a slow cultivation of strength, expansion and awareness which leads students into a state of reflection on the underlying truths of their souls.
I cannot pretend to think every student will rush out and sign up for a yoga class (although my fingers are crossed!) Maybe you will, however, check out one of many short yoga classes available on YouTube. Or just try a forward fold the next time you feel like going to pieces over your final exams.
CSU students are at a powerful time in their lives: for many, the time is coming to determine your life’s work, to choose your contribution. It is critical that students find methods of appropriately handling stress and reflecting on their purpose.
I do not deny that we live in a chaotic world, but when we run from the chaos by succumbing to maladaptive methods of stress management (drug and alcohol dependence, et cetera) we only contribute to pandemonium by avoiding thoughtful reflection.
To stand tall amongst the chaos and remain vessels of purpose and goodness, we can first remove ourselves from anything beyond the present and use the portal of the body to get to know ourselves.
This presence offers a powerful platform to separate ourselves from the chaos, only so we can reflect and re-emerge into it strong and empowered to change the world. The call of your lifetime is out there. The question then becomes: will you be listening when that call comes in, or will you be off in your head somewhere and miss it altogether?
Claire Heywood is a 700 hour certified yoga instructor and the founder of CSU Yoga Club. She teaches yoga at Om Ananda Yoga and the CSU Recreation Center. You can find connect with her more at colorofmyconscience.tumblr.com.