Almost seven years ago, I worked as an Assistant Manager in a large clothing store in the local mall. For anyone who has ever worked long hours of retail, you know that rest is not usually a luxury one gets to experience while on the clock. You know that retail is a different form of stress altogether. You know that often you are working while you are not on the clock. You know that even if you happen to be in a clothing store, you will gain a better workout lifting, hanging, sorting, pricing, etc. than you ever possibly could at the local gym. My endurance was in prime form. My muscles were beginning to tone. I was sore all day, all over, all the time.
Someone in passing suggested that I try yoga to balance out my retail issues, and while I do not remember who made the suggestion now, I do remember, quite vividly, my first week doing yoga. First, I followed a fifteen minute basic flow from a DVD. I practiced three or four times a week. My body felt so much better, so quickly that I began practicing yoga more often, and I began lengthening my meditation times at the end of each practice, and soon I was feeling so good that I found myself advocating the miraculous healing aspects of yoga and meditation to anyone who would listen.
I love yoga. I have faithfully practiced for years and am always eager to talk to people about my practice in the hopes that they too might find the joy and better health that I discovered. Regretfully, this is rarely the case here in the South. The concept of yoga, an activity that is now so popular that it can be seen daily on TV commercials, on the internet, and on supposedly “healthy” items found at the grocery, should be one that is easily accessible now to people from all places and all walks of life. Trust me when I say this…it is not.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, in the South people will look you straight in the eye and say something “nice” that is meant to be demeaning in some way. I think most people have experienced this at some point. My own personal taunts usually sound something like this. “You are so cheerful and optimistic every time I see you. You don’t see that all the time.” “I never leave the house without doing my face. Aren’t you lucky you do not have to wear makeup?” And my favorite spoken in whispers between two women, “She is so small and petite.” “It’s because she doesn’t eat anything and does that yogi stuff you see on TV.” “Yeah, I could never do that. They chant weird words and mediate.” “We didn’t cover that in church.”
Erm….needless to say, there are some huge misconceptions about yoga in the South. To be fair there was a time that yoga was a new concept for me as well. I was not born with the innate knowledge on the meaning of Adho Mukha Svanasana and Virabhadrasana. These Sanskrit words were once completely unknown to me as well. I was unsure how chanting mantras to gods I was only vaguely familiar with would fit into my own deep spiritual beliefs. Most importantly, remember I tried out yoga for health reasons; I was not convinced that a series of poses would alter my life in any valuable way, but I was willing to try something new. Thank goodness I gave it a shot. When I first began yoga, there was no local class to attend. If a person wanted to practice yoga, they had to buy a DVD and practice in the comfort of their own home. Now, there is a local class that manages to bridge the gap between yoga and the South. The class is run with lovely classical music playing softly in the background. Asanas are referred to as poses or good stretches. The “poses” are called only by their English name, and at no point is there ever any chanting. "Om" does not exist. The hour long class is ended with a nice 5 minute meditation, where the teacher ends the class with a nice anjali mudra “hands brought together below the heart” and Namaste. Namaste, to which our teacher very carefully explains while keeping any deeper meaning out of the equation, “the light in me recognizes the light in you,” is usually met with general befuddled silence. I giggle through almost every class because almost no one replies. They are afraid of the word as if it were a black cat crossing a road in front of them while they are driving. Only once did we have a brave soul, who dared to reply the sacred salutation back to our delightful teacher…and he replied with heartfelt sincerity and a jolly smile, “Namasstee.”