Remember the Joy

The question was raised earlier in the week as to why we come to yoga class. Some come to get a good stretch, or a workout, depending on the type of class. And that is fine. Others come to de-stress, to relax, to get the kinks worked out after a long day sitting at the computer. And that, too, is fine. Some come to find peace, that stillness that so often seems elusive. There is no right or wrong for the reason why we come to mat, but there is a reason why we stay. For those that view yoga as an exercise, know that there is more here for you than just looser hamstrings, stronger arms, or weight loss. For everyone who is interested, there is the opportunity for ease, happiness, and a little joy. It all depends on how you practice.

The class this morning was not with my usual teacher. When I first began to take yoga classes, this bothered me. I liked certain teachers, and when they were gone and a substitute was teaching the  class, I felt disappointed. I often compared how they taught with the usual teacher. Of course, I was so caught up in this comparison and judging, that I completely forgot why I went. For peace. I allowed my mind to run the show. Instead of walking out of the studio feeling relaxed and soft, I was just as tense as I went in, and often with the added sense of, “See, I knew the class wouldn’t be like her class.” Since I’ve completed my teacher training, however, I welcome new teachers. They offer a fresh approach and I’m always interested in how they put their sequence together and the way they instruct the class to move into or out of a pose.

The focus this morning was joy. Remembering the joy in whatever we do. Granted, any person, yoga teacher or not, will be able to list several examples in which we as human beings will not be in joy. And we’re not supposed to be alright with all that goes on. As is always the invitation, we experiment with whatever the teacher offers as the focus for the class, and those of us who are students of yoga (practice more than just the asanas) we take the lesson off the mat to other areas of our lives, where it really counts.

So, joy. Yes, when we’re in our favorite pose, it is easy to be in joy. “I like this pose. I can do it well. It makes me feel good.” When we are partaking in our favorite activities, like cooking, horseback riding, skiing, reading, or gardening, it is easy to be in joy, to have the edges of our physical being and any thoughts fade to just the activity, being “in the zone”, where there is no separation between us and what we’re doing. A step further is to allow the joy to arise when we’re in a situation where it isn’t our favorite, such as traffic, standing in line at the bank when we’re late, having a boss or colleague share their dissatisfaction with a situation that we are involved in. There are all kinds of yoga tools and techniques to help us be in a more joyful space, even here, one that keeps the mind from creating all the stories and misery that color our experience and encourage us to fall into that trap of drama or victimhood or misery.

In my creativity blog, I consistently stress that there is no right or wrong. In yoga, a lot of that is the same. Sure, alignment is important, especially for beginners who often struggle with proprioception. But once we’ve been around a pose a dozen times or more, we begin to trust that the body knows where to go. It becomes more about getting there, about enjoying the transition, not about how quickly or how perfectly one arrives at the ‘finished pose’ (of which there really isn’t one). Sometimes we get so caught up in getting it right, in ‘showing off’ to the instructor or the person on the next mat, that we forget the joy, the peace that can arise if we allow it.

The class this morning was a reminder to move in joy, to move the way the body is asking to be moved. Everyone’s breath of joy looked different, some were in child’s pose between two particular poses while others chose down dog, because that is what the body needed, and that is what brought a smile to the student’s face. I propose that there are more opportunities for joy throughout our day than we realize. Both on and off the mat. Can we allow joy to accompany us in an inversion? (Difficult for me, but yes, it is possible.) When we are lat for an appointment, and we seem to hit every red light, can we find joy in that moment, and every one until we arrive, safely, at our destination? I think so. If an ailing parent passes, if our beloved dog has an incurable disease, if a man with a bomb steps into a crowded marketplace, can we still be in joy? Maybe (probably) not. And that’s okay. The practice then, is how quickly we can return to that state of peace. Sometimes it will be quicker than others. But this is where yoga comes in.

In my experience, my practice is like an emergency flashlight in the darkest of times. I start with the breath. I ask if I can accept what the circumstances are, and acknowledge if I can or not. If not, I give myself some more time, and practice a few more techniques; maybe meditation, pranayama, kirtan, or repeating a mantra. Once I can surrender to what is happening, then I’m in a place to take the next step. No guarantee that I won’t slip backward and have to apply another technique or use another tool that yoga offers. Eventually, I do return to the state of joy. Maybe that is a carrot to get me there, or maybe that is my reward, or maybe it feels better, my life is lighter, when I can return to that place of stillness that I know is always within me. I have recorded, in the form of 25 poems about yogic techniques that bring me back to joy. You can read three of them at my website: I welcome any comments you’d wish to leave regarding what you employ to bring you back to center, back to joy. Namaste.