Yoga Is More Than Just Gorgeous People In Fancy Spandex

To an outsider, yoga might look like a bunch of gorgeous people in fancy spandex flipping upside down on the beach or in a studio. At least that's the story the media seems to tell us.

But what about the stories beneath the poses, beneath the muscles and connective tissue? What about the raw, honest experiences of how yoga touches our lives, with all its stumbling and unfolding?

As a writer and a yogi, these were the narratives I was more interested in. I asked 17 writers, including national bestselling authors like Cheryl Strayed, Neal Pollack and Dani Shapiro to share how yoga can move us, amuse us and make us remember that at the end of the day, we are good enough.

What these writers shared blew me away.

When I was compiling these essays I was struck by what kept bubbling up: struggle, self-doubt, complicated relationships and the crazy monkey-mind. I was reminded of an essential but often-forgotten fact — that we are not alone in this life.

There is this big illusion that we're isolated in our human experience. But right now, in this moment, ask yourself:

  • Have you ever stepped inside of a moment so precious you didn't want to let it go?
  • Have you ever felt insecure? And maybe you took that insecurity out on someone else?
  • Have you ever sought a little self-love while sweating and struggling in the back row of a yoga class?
  • Have you ever felt alone?

We've all known the gravity of loss; we've all felt anxiety's mercurial heat; we've all become broken at some point. Like stones gilded through the fire, we become more resilient and compassionate. We are stunning in our imperfections, though that term — imperfect —doesn't feel right. Perhaps humanness is more appropriate. We are stunning in our humanness, and the practice of yoga reveals that humanness to ourselves.

Here are some glimmers of everyday wisdom from five witty, brilliant and very human yogi authors that appear in my book, Going Om: Real-Life Stories on and off the Yoga Mat. May they remind you of your humanness and how beautiful that is.

1."In theory, I love how suffering makes me stronger. I believe in learning from my injuries. In theory, I believe in suffering well, in turning my suffering over in my hands until I can see it from every angle, understand it, so that I may not be afraid of it. I know I have benefited from suffering when I've approached it with courage. In theory. Real suffering, however? Real suffering can suck it. My own, but especially my mother's." -Suzanne Morrison, from "Duet in Song and Smoke"

2."Yoga breathing fascinated me. Like walking, I didn't realize there was a right way and a wrong way. But there I sat, eyes shut, breathing in and out. I took five breaths and opened my eyes. The world appeared brighter. Visually stunning. It was as if a gray film had been lifted from my eyes. I held on to this moment for as long I could. I kept breathing—oh the joy of breathing!—and opening my eyes to a feast of color. The world moved, and I understood, only for this moment, that I was connected to it. I understood that you couldn't separate mind and body and spirit, that they acted in conjunction with one another. Then I realized I was becoming new agey, and the thought made me self-conscious, and I was back to hating myself. But I'm allowing for this. I'm allowing for vulnerability. I'm allowing for sadness. You can't stop it. You can only understand it." -Ira Sukrungruang,"Body Replies"

3."We all have a deep need to be in our bodies, experiencing them with immediacy. Unhindered by the patterning of consciousness." -Claire Dederer, "The, Um, Sexy Yoga Essay"

4."She fought like any woman would: with her heart and her mouth, with fire and rage and love. And when she finally understood that there was nothing that her mouth or her heart could do to mend her marriage, she left." -Adriana Paramo, "Sitting Doggietation"

5."Part of why I love meditation is being able to watch my resistance and fear dissolve as I loosen my grip on "doing it right" and as I get beyond techniques and guiding images. There are moments where I know I'm breathing and don't care, like riding a bike with no hands, and it's golden. And it's a beautiful thing to sit next to a candle and be able to say, 'Hi, heart. I feel you beating.'" -Sonya Huber, "Breathing"

Adapted from Going Om: Real-Life Stories On and Off the Yoga Mat edited by Melissa Carroll, published by Viva Editions.

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