How J.R.R. Tolkien Prepared Me For Yoga

As a kid, I was obsessed with the worlds J.R.R. Tolkien created; I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy until I had long stretches of it memorized. But it was only after the release of the recent films that I began to see how Tolkien’s naturalist and anti-industrialist philosophies had started me, long ago, on a yogic path.

1. “Adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine.” 

One of the most important lessons yoga can teach us is how to breathe through every challenge. There will be difficulties in our lives; that is unavoidable. All we can do is keep going and keep breathing; our breath, moment to moment, can see us through anything. And when it gets too difficult? Remember that May sunshine and keep walking.

2. “True education is a kind of never ending story—a matter of continual beginnings, of habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness.”

There’s the idea in yoga of the beginner’s mind, the Zen mind, meaning that you approach each experience as an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Think about the last yoga class you took in a new studio or with a new teacher. Did you wait and allow the instructor to guide you into a posture, moving you from point to point, urging you to move mindfully through the body? Or did you ignore her instruction, confident in your own abilities, and make your own way into the posture?

There is so much to be learned in every moment; no matter how confident you are, it is not possible to know everything about a certain posture (in yoga) or a certain person or situation (in life). Set the ego aside for a moment and let yourself be guided—find the persistent newness in every moment.

3. “One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”

Attachment—it is the source of almost all daily dissatisfaction. When we steadfastly attach ourselves to a particular outcome, a particular goal or a particular dogma, then we will suffer. We hold so tightly to our desires and ideals, be they material or philosophical, that we are bound to suffer when we (or life) cannot live up to them.

So, are we supposed to live without any desire? Well, no. That’s not exactly realistic. Have desires, have passions—but be willing to change, to evolve. Realize that life does not go according to our wishes and realize that it is the outcome to which we must not become attached. Find a path, but be prepared to toss away the map when it ceases to guide you.

4. “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Yoga has been criticized, in certain circles, as just another New Age fad. Now, this article is not the time or the place to go into the philosophy of “New Age,” but for the sake of clarity, let’s define it as a quest for understanding the world we live in by assessing different traditions and keeping those beliefs which strike us as thoroughly true. Yoga strikes me (and millions of others) as thoroughly true and I can only know that through curiosity, practice, and self-assessment—tenets of the New Age movement.

Those who are considered “New Agers” tend to collect from different traditions, to “wander,” if you will (indeed, this wandering is exactly what we are often criticized for). But, know this: that it is when we wander (that is, to go forward without a specific destination in mind) that we move slowly enough to see the beauty that we would otherwise miss when striding forward, intent on the destination and not on the journey.

5. “Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world… and it’s worth fighting for.”

Everything is yoga. The word “yoga” itself means to yoke, to unite. If you practice enough yoga (both on and off the mat), you begin to see the union in all things. That union, that connectedness, is worth fighting for. How do we fight? Well, in a yogic lifestyle, we do so by observing, by not judging, by not harming, by being truthful to ourselves and by respecting the truth in others. We are a diverse world with diverse opinions; we fight for connectedness when we stop fighting diversity. See the light in yourself and know that that same light, that same beauty, burns in everyone else. No exceptions.

image via D Sharon Pruitt

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