esther m palmer

a little yoga story for you

I love stories. I love well-crafted stories. I love well-told stories. But really, who doesn't? The story is a basic, ubiquitous form for organizing information for communication. It helps us comprehend, process, and learn. Stories are a fundamental part of our collective (social) existence.

My yoga story is deeply rooted in the physical body (it may even be that it just is the/my physical body). I don't even really know how to translate it into words. It's not my idea of a cake walk to bother with the translation, either. But then I'd never be able to share this experience with anyone new. I wouldn't be a teacher. I wouldn't be a student. I suppose then I would just be, which some say is the goal, but that wouldn't get me very far -it would be socially isolating, if cosmically connected. Oooh! I have a little story about that.

I am a dancer. I've been attracted to dancing since I was very little. The movement of it, not the discipline, is what caught my eye (to six-year-old me, ballet class was BORING), and my dancing journey lacked structure and goals. (This was generally fine with me, I was still dancing; it just felt different from what all the other dancers seemed to be doing.) Perhaps because I do not like being told how to be, I've never been so very fond of filling a role in a choreographer's work (unless that role was me), and started as a young teenager to make up my own dances. And more importantly, I started dancing for myself, by myself.

I've known few moments in life when I was as connected and whole as when I was dancing, alone in the studio, without agenda. And that experience, well, I've never felt compelled to share with others because it hasn't wanted to be shared. That is, it isn't important to me that anyone know for themselves what the experience is like for me. Now, I've also spent much of my teen and adult life in the community of dance, making work, performing, attending shows, joining the dialogue and keeping it a part of my identity, education, and contribution to society. This has always been a challenge of sorts --it requires discipline, commitment, perseverance, passion-- but my experiences of something I never had words for remind me that it's important and worth it.

The yogis, they created words for that experience (at its most essential) and a system of tools to bring anyone into it. Which is why so many of us can find a resonance with ourselves in the practice of yoga. (And the more I look around, the more I see similar avenues abound in human experience. Which is to say that, happily, yoga isn't the purview of just yogis.) It also means that the philosophies of yoga are just stories that bring the singular experience of self into dialogue with daily living.

This is important for me to remember, because I haven't yet found much of a connection with the classic yoga texts I've read (yoga sutrashatha yoga pradipika), I think because of the prevalence of hierarchical language and talk of spirituality. I haven't yet figured out what spirituality is supposed to mean, the word certainly doesn't mean anything to me, and it doesn't describe my experience of yoga. Perhaps the translation from the Sanskrit, the language developed to describe yoga and its philosophies, is at fault. But sometimes I suspect it might have to do with the translation of experience into words of any language (there is always something lost in translation, which is why no one needs to know what Bill Murray whispers in Scarlett Johansson's ear).

My inclination is to leave the texts be, not bother with defining spirituality, find my philosophy elsewhere. Then I remember that those texts, imperfect as they might be, participate in encouraging the widespread practice of yoga, which I think is awesome, spiritual or not. And I remember that the teaching (and learning how to practice) of yoga is found in the process of attempting the translation from experience to something we can use and share in our everyday living, like language. It's not easy. It requires discipline, commitment, perseverance, passion. And it's worth it.

More of that attempt next week. Until then, have a good one!

Om shanti

Thoughts or questions? I'd love to hear them.

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