Yesterday I wrote a little more on ditching the gym. Personally, I think that for workouts where you actually need instruction, it’s better to go to the gym and take the class. I have maintained my yoga club membership, for eleven years (about 1000 classes) because there’s always something to learn, and a watchful pair of eyes to keep me from hurting myself.
Today I took my own advice and went back to the Bikram hot box, and I’m particularly glad I went. In class the teacher said, “Yoga is the only activity where the subject is not the object.” In doing so she crystallized something I’ve been struggling to put into words.
So, what on earth did she mean?
Generally, when we enter into an activity, the activity is the intent. My mother is a painter. When you paint, the object is to have a painting. I used to spend a serious amount of time studying karate. When you learn how how to fight, the object (shockingly, I know) is to know how to fight. Similarly, when we go to the gym, generally, the subject is the object:
- Strength training is for getting strong
- Fitness training for getting fit
- Stretching classes are for getting flexible
In the beginning when you go to yoga, this is exactly what happens. You go to your first class and start to learn the poses. You go for a while wherein the main purpose is to do the yoga; to learn the poses well enough to…do the poses.
This can continue for quite some time, especially in a yoga style like Bikram. Bikram yoga is the same 26 postures, in the same order, held for the same length of time every class. This has the benefit of making it incredibly easy to track your progress. Each class you can measure yourself against the last class, and every class before that, and see how far you’ve come.
Unfortunately it simultaneously creates a trap. You can see, day to day, week to week, year to year exactly how far you’ve progressed, and it’s easy to fall into focusing solely on that.
- How well did I do the posture?
- How deeply did I do the stretch?
- How many postures did I ease off on, or even skip?
When you’re doing this, you’re doing the yoga for the sake of doing the yoga, like strength training, or fitness training, or whatever, you’re measuring the success of the practice in terms of how well you are doing the practice.
In other words, the subject of the activity is the object of the activity.
This is not necessarily bad. I used to wear a heart rate monitor in class to track fat burning zones, aerobic zones, anaerobic zones, average heart rate, peak heart rate and calories burned. Yoga had become the major portion of my fitness regime, so I treated it like an exercise, and tracked the results as an exercise. Nerd that I am, I actually maintained a spreadsheet of it all.
But while it is not necessarily bad, it can also be limiting. Yoga has given me so much more than simple strength, fitness and flexibility that thinking of it as just another exercise is a disservice to it, and to me. Yoga became a serious part of my life at exactly the time I most needed something, something more than merely an exercise program.
- I was stressed out
- I wasn’t sleeping
- My marriage was on the rocks
- I was having weekly migraines
- I had terrible mood swings
- I wasn’t being a very good daddy
Luckily for me, although I was treating yoga as just another exercise program, yoga had other plans. While I was “just exercising” in the yoga room, yoga helped me with every single one of those problems. I was treating the subject as the object, but the subject was treating me as the object. While I was doing yoga as an exercise, and for the sake of getting good at yoga, yoga was working on me, to make a better me.
Over time I came to realize what had happened, and what was still happening. I was transforming myself through the practice of yoga. Physically;
- 20 lbs weight gained
- 1-1/2 inches dropped from my waist
- My back pain went away
- My migraines all but disappeared
- I stopped eating crap
- My posture got better
- My moods improved
- My patience increased
- My wife and I stopped constantly fighting
- I came to love my kids even more, and
- To love them for who they are, not what I thought they should be
The subject is not the object, you are the object. You are the purpose, the reason to go to yoga. You can go into the yoga room for a great workout. Or, you can go into the yoga room:
To sweat, strain, laugh and do more for your health, body, and general well-being than you ever thought possible.
The yoga room is a great leveler. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional athlete, movie star, billionaire or just an middle aged engineer trying to navigate the rocks and shoals of modern life, marriage, children. In that place the only thing you need to do is to be there. To show up, to let go, and let the yoga do the rest. What is the rest? Depends on what you need, what “general well-being” means to you.
I now know what it means for me.