I’m on an airplane with nowhere I can go so finally I am starting this new blog. One of my writer friends said to start by introducing myself. Briefly, I’m 45, I live in Venice Beach in a live/work loft that is a home and a yoga studio, and I love teaching and growing my business. I have been doing yoga for about 20 years and teaching for 14. I started teaching in Washington, DC and that’s where I am headed now for a weekend of workshops that I’ll lead in a new studio owned by the company that owned the first facility I ever taught in. I’d say it’s a homecoming if it weren’t for the fact that I am not the same person that left DC for Los Angeles 10 years ago.
I was miserable then, struggling with a ton of baggage. Now I am very happy and feel much more at ease and grown up but still struggling with baggage. Aren’t we all? The difference now is that I love the struggle. What yoga has taught me in this past decade is how to carry the luggage that life packs for you so that instead of being a burden, it’s a blessing. My baggage is my teacher in that it connects me to reality and shows me the way to my self.
I am reflecting a lot on how we all carry our histories around with us because I am going to my old home and because I am reading my favorite book for the 3rd time: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s about a middle aged man remembering his service in Vietnam through story telling. The writer goes into a lot of detail about both of those things: how we remember and cope with our pasts and how we craft stories that we tell others and tell ourselves so that we can make sense of our present. He remembers the war differently each time he retells the story of a horrific night in the war and the evolution of his stories and all of our stories begs to ask which is more true: the thing that actually happened or the memory of it? Is truth about accuracy and correctness or is it about what story you carry at any given moment?
Whether we carry our histories out of necessity, for practical purposes, because we can’t let go or for any other reason, we hold it to our hearts as truth. We tell ourselves, “This is what happened”. We can let it bog us down or we can actually use it to learn how to fly high. I believe that memory is more true than accurate facts. We act on what we remember. Our memories are more than things that our minds remember. They live in our bodies, our posture, the way we eat and the way we treat ourselves and how we relate to others. Sometimes it’s called baggage or issues but to me it’s all memory manifested into patterns that we can continue to repeat or choose to end.
In Sanskrit, the language of yoga philosophy, samskara is the word for patterns of behavior and thoughts. Sam means same and kar means action, as in karma, the yogic law that describes how action is constantly unfolding based on past actions. We all have patterns. One of the useful tools that yoga can teach is to continually and carefully observe our own patterns. The yoga mat is a great place to learn how to do it. What do you do when you struggle with an asana? What do you say inside to yourself about you and your body and your skills? What about when you excel in something difficult? Then where does your mind go?
When you start to watch and listen to yourself in this way, you’ll start to understand the paradigm that you have constructed. You’ll start to hear the story of your self as you have written it. With practice, you’ll be able to discern between those patterns that are beneficial and worthy of reinforcement and those that need to be removed. The cleansing practice of identifying and removing harmful patterns is called tapas, which literally means to purify something by burning away impurities. It works well. It doesn’t feel good when we do it. Humans find it a lot easier to keep things as they are than to embrace change, even when the present state is misery. And that’s because change, even positive change, can briefly hurt more than staying put. It burns. But we do it because we think it will make us better.
Sometimes we make mistakes. We choose a particular path of action that we think will make us feel better only to find that it had no effect or injurious effect. There is a very easy-to-understand example in drinking alcohol. How often have you witnessed, firsthand or otherwise, drinking to make some pain go away only to find that the pain is worsened by the booze? It happens all the time: we choose the path that we think is better then we see if we were right.
So now here I am 10 years after relocating to LA. I own a beautiful little yoga studio that holds an amazing little community of practitioners and is the home to a yoga content company that I think is going to change the way yoga is practiced in the US. I love my life. Every painful and pleasant step I ever took got me here. I’m flying high on my way back to where my yoga practice started. I have become a smart enough frequent flyer to bring all my stuff in a carry-on. And I am a frequent-practitioner, too. My practice has taught me that I will always have baggage but that if I see it as an opportunity instead of as an obstacle, it doesn’t weigh me down at all.