I’m a pretty smart guy and have pretty good body awareness. And I had a pretty damn good first yoga instructor. I have to admit though, that it took me a couple of years to start to figure out what the hell yoga really is.
Here is a typical guy starting out with yoga-
So, you go to a yoga class and do what they say. You stretch in weird ways and everyone is nice. The instructor tells you to breathe, but you’re not listening. You can’t listen because the poses are strange, so your brain is too busy trying to do them. At the end of class, you lay down, which is good because you’re really tired. It’s ok. Everyone is laying down.
The next day your body feels funny. You can’t really explain it. It’s a weird sensation. Your innards feel strained and not necessarily in a good way. Or maybe you feel sick all day. Regardless, you somehow know the discomfort isn’t a bad thing, so you plan to go to another yoga class.
The next class is better but actually makes more questions than gives answers. Some of the poses are the same, which feels familiar but you can sense how much there really is to doing this. By the end of the second yoga class, you’re buying a small class package. You’re not sure what this is, but you know you have to do more of it.
The above was my story for like the first two years of going to yoga. I knew it was good for me in about four different ways but didn’t really have a grasp on the whole thing. Eighteen years later, I think I know what’s up with yoga. I mean, mostly.
HISTORY OF YOGA(As explained by an American male)
Yoga is really fucking old. And really fucking old things cannot be accurately traced back to their origin. You may find someone who is supremely confident about where, how, and why yoga began, but unless he is at least a 5,000 year-old dude, his story is no more proven than anyone else’s.
So the beginning is unverifiable but if someone asks you where it came from, you might as well say it came from India. That is what most will say and that’s where a lot of people will go when they are wanting to get more authenticity in their practice. Westerner yogis go to India and get told their American yoga is bullshit, so they come back to the States with their noses up like they just learned something special. In truth, their noses are still up from smelling all the filth and human waste from being in a place grotesquely overpopulated with no infrastructure or cleanliness.
So yoga started out with maybe the same goal it has today. I could write a book on what the aim was and still is, but for the sake of pure simplicity, let’s just say yoga’s main goal and endgame is this thing called “enlightenment”.
Later on, practitioners of yoga kind of realized that enlightenment requires too much of a commitment. People need to have jobs and kids and shit so they wouldn’t be able to put the time in for enlightenment. So to keep the interest up, some dudes came up with some achievements that are actually doable for people with real lives. The goals of yoga then became things like having balance, inner peace, acceptance, understanding, and a healthy body. Yogis would think about a couple of these things while staring at a wall or something and that would help them work some of their internal shit out.
A little later after that, a couple of Indian guys came up with some cool ways to organize this exploration by adding some tree limbs and some energy points of origin in the body. These systems of organization were good for cultures of more complex lifestyles, and so they successfully bridged the cultural gaps making the concept more marketable.
Today’s (American) yoga is more about the physical body as the vast majority of classes focus exclusively on the physical postures of yoga and some breathing. The branches and energy centers are still studied, but mostly only during the physical posture practice. This is yoga in
America and many other areas of the world. Many that are considered “real” yogis frown upon it. I don’t. I think it’s exactly what it should be at the moment.
WHAT IS “ENLIGHTENMENT”?
If you get into yoga for an extended period of time, you may find yourself in a conversation about enlightenment. Now, you might just be trying to sleep with some girl and that’s why you’re even entertaining this shit, but the truth is that the concept of enlightenment is pretty fucking cool.
Enlightenment can be defined in a really fancy way using really big and cool words. There are whole books just defining enlightenment and that’s kinda sad if you ask me. Ironically, yoga is filled with self-importance and some of these guys will drone on about things that are really simple. So here’s my version:
Enlightenment is being in a state of perfection. Have you ever had everything go your way at least once in your life? I mean, you got a raise, your woman just had great sex with you and you love each other, you just figured out that thing at work, your body feels perfect, you are making all of your goals, you and your kid understand each other, and your favorite team just won the Superbowl. In this moment, everything in your existence feels right and balanced.
Congratulations! You have experienced enlightenment. That’s all it is though. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Yogis make a big deal about enlightenment like it’s something the average guy isn’t capable of achieving. That’s just more self-importance bullshit. Your regular guy American self can achieve enlightenment. Period.
Now that you maybe know what it is, there is one thing about it that we all should know. And that is enlightenment is a temporary state. Don’t let anyone tell you someone achieved enlightenment and sustained it. That only means that whoever told you that, doesn’t understand what it really means.
I think the yoga world puts such a high degree of difficulty in experiencing enlightenment because those who try to achieve it, do so the lazy man’s way. They try to remove the normal struggles of life as an animal-human by sitting around staring at something and allowing others around them to take care of their personal responsibilities. This “absence of struggle” is supposed to aid to and show the way to enlightenment, but I think it does the opposite. But now I’m getting too deep so I’ll just leave it at that.
WHAT YOGA ISN’T
My first instructor used to always say “yoga without the breath is just stretching”. Yoga is not stretching and it’s not calisthenics. Most American yoga classes can be quite a hard physical workout but you have to get more than just that out of it.
And yoga isn’t just sitting around in a circle listening to some kid with a man bun and a lack of bathing telling you how to think or live your life or to eat only tofu and hate anything containing palm oil. That’s not yoga either. That’s someone’s bullshit and often not well thought out agenda. Ain’t nobody got time
Also, yoga isn’t a competition. Yoga studios can vary quite a bit and most their “vibes” are based on who owns and runs them. There are some yogis that are really into the harder postures like handstands, strength poses, and fancy balances with twisting. Some of those yogis open their own studios and they can create quite a competitive environment. I have nothing against people getting out of yoga what they want and need from it. But the environment should not be competitive. That is not yoga.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT WHEN GOING TO A YOGA CLASS
There are a couple of types of yoga that requires you to learn things before you can progress into other classes and some studios will have the occasional “advanced” class. But the vast majority of all yoga classes are for beginners or are beginner friendly.
After talking about it for a while, my nephew wanted to give yoga a try. I was excited for him and told him he might like the place I’ve been going to for years. He said he was going to eventually go but wanted to know how to do at least some yoga before he went. He wanted to do some at home from a video a few times first so he wouldn’t look bad when he went to an actual class. I told him that it didn’t really matter what he knew about yoga and that he could go to any class and it would be fine.
“I just don’t want to look stupid. Especially in front of the girls that will be there”, he told me and I got it. It took a couple more months of convincing and when he finally went to a class, he realized it didn’t matter.
Yoga class is a non-judgemental, calm environment that should be friendly and accepting of anyone’s beginner status. You don’t have to walk in looking all hard wearing an old Affliction t-shirt with a skull head and a sickle on it so you can establish your manly status. (And BTW, if you still have an Affliction t-shirt, throw that thing in the trashcan. They are about as over as WWII). I’m not saying you have to leave your ego at the door. You can come in with it no problem. If the experience is good, you may find that your precious ego left you about halfway through the class and that’s a good thing.
Going into a yoga class with an open mind is best. This isn’t like going to church or anything weird. You’re just going to move your body in ways you may never have before so it’s best to stay open so you can get an honest opinion of it and how you feel about it.
You can also expect the class to be mostly women. If this is a problem for you, then cool. Go back to the gym and pump iron next to Hans and Frans. You can continue to secretly admire other men’s oiled up body parts in the mirrors. No judgment here. Yoga class will be almost the opposite of that. There are beautiful women wearing tight clothes and doing things you can’t do. And most of them are quite friendly too as long as you’re not trying to creep on them. And you shouldn’t be.
Expect to sweat a lot especially if you go to a hot yoga class. If you go to what is considered “hot yoga”, you are going to sweat your ass off. I recommend yoga in at least a warm room. It’s just a better experience, especially for beginner men. If you go to the yoga class that they have at your gym, that’s cool and that’s how I started eighteen years ago. Gyms are cold though and that’s not ideal for yoga but it can still be great.
SO WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga is such vast tool for so many things. It’s hard to define in one sentence without it sounding too vague. So my best explanation is that yoga is an environment for self-exploration. I know that sounds like some tree-hugging, granola eating, life is great and people are wonderful bullshit love fest. But that’s the best way I can put it.
Having issues with your body? Is that shoulder still acting up from when you pitched in little league baseball? How about the groin you pulled years ago in Karate or your back from that car accident? The things in your body that have been hurt or are of questionable status can be explored and in some cases repaired through yoga. It doesn’t matter what the physical concern or issue. Yoga will help you figure out its status by self-exploration.
Yoga will put you in tune with your body like no other thing will. Been wondering what that pain in your side is? How about when you get weirdly winded whenever you play volleyball? Yoga opens a communication with your body so you discover what is going on inside. How fucking awesome is that?
This exploration doesn’t stop with just your body. Every new discovery in science is proving that the mind and the body are linked in all kinds of ways. It’s not just your neck. When you do yoga, you move your body and you breathe into that movement. When you learn how to do it right, the breath and the movement can release all kinds of emotions. These are emotions that live in the body parts. It sounds like BS but I can’t tell you how many times I have felt some type of way depending on a particular yoga posture I was into. That injured back from that car crash long ago can be holding how you felt about the accident. By twisting, breathing, and concentrating on that area, the emotions can release to your brain and you’ll be thinking of weird stuff. This shit is real. And it’s really fucking cool.
Do enough yoga and the exploration will go to bigger things. You’ll start to explore how you really feel about things that are important to you in your life. Before you even notice, you’ll be learning stuff about who you really are and how you really feel about shit. And it may not be all good as we often hide things from ourselves that we don’t want to deal with.
All along the way, yoga will be giving you the opportunity to learn about yourself and then maybe make improvements by having a better understanding of everything. And your body will be in better condition than it was in when you started. Just ask athletes like Lebron James or Tom Brady. They swear by yoga.
Don’t think that yoga is going to change you? It won’t or I should say “it shouldn’t”. It should only help you discover and understand more of who you are. Don’t worry about your beliefs. Yoga is not going to change your belief system or what is important to you. It may make you learn more about who you really are and how you really want to live though. And that may change some things in your life. Personally, I eat way better and show a lot more respect and am less toxic in many ways as a result of doing yoga. It helped me discover that that is the person I am.
Finally, you don’t have to use yoga for any of the cool stuff I just mentioned. Use it for whatever you want and leave the rest. If you just want it to keep your joints and tendons in good shape and that’s it, then cool man. Enjoy.
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