By J. G. Lewis
Can you find salvation on a yoga mat?
Can you strengthen the body while loosening the mind and arrive at this place of freedom everyone talks about? Well not everyone; not the doubtful or the disbelievers (as I was, and perhaps still am). But someone, somewhere (in fact, a lot of some ones) said it was an option.
An option was all I could afford. There was little left of me, and even less of what I could believe in.
I have placed my faith in the unknown before, and every time I have come back raw.
I was searching for salvation, or redemption. I was looking for a path—any path—away from the deceit and self-deprecation I had settled into. I wanted to believe in something. I wanted to, again, believe in myself. If that basic tenet is not there, is there anything at all?
Could yoga be that one thing that could lead me away, or take me further, from just existing to a place of existence? Could I be enlightened? Could yoga heal the heart? Could it take away the shackles? Could it make me complete? Would it better prepare me for this race we call human? Could I even qualify for the race if I didn’t feel I fit into the category?
I was scarred, I was scared, and more than that, I was skeptical. How could a discipline that required no ego deal with one as tarnished as mine? How could I commit to daily practice when it was a fear of commitment that led to my unraveling? (Did I just say that?)
So I didn’t commit, I just went.
I didn’t ask. I didn’t question my undetermined ulterior motives and I ignored my emotional consolidation. I just went; it was better that way. If you fill your head with expectations, it leaves room for little else.
I went and I kept going.
Repetition—the same 26 postures every class. The aches and pains outside began to equal those I held within. How could I say I liked it when it changed daily, as did I? Sometimes the dialogue sounded like nagging, other days it was poetry. It spoke to me. I heard more, and listened more. I could feel something (a lot of things), I could breathe, I could bend, and I could suddenly find stillness.
A wandering mind is not easy to tame.
Or had I been fooled? Now eight months in, have I been trapped? Was I beginning to believe in something I could not believe in? How could I so easily be convinced this was the hardest thing I had ever done? Were these even changes, or was I just delusional? Yoga could do that. Yoga could make you dizzy. Yoga could play with your emotions (whether you wanted it to or not) as endorphins engaged and oxygen began to reach memories and mayhem in unused corners of the mind.
Coming out of Camel, was that sweat in my eyes, or were those tears? Had my sweat become blood? Had my blood turned from rust, as my heart, as my soul, as my entire being, drained its toxins and spewed out the negative thoughts? Yoga indeed removed your ego, silenced your id and seduced your entire ethos as if to remind you how powerless you were. In so many ways yoga was like life itself; it comes at you hard, it devours your mind, body, and spirit until there’s nothing left. Then it truly begins.
Yoga uncovered my faults. What else could spill from this body?
I was beginning to feel my body was now what I owned. Before it only seemed leased. It was a place that took in anything: bad food, good wine, misused words and misplaced love. I soaked it up. I held onto anything, clung to the anger, the unrest and torrential anguish until it made me a person even I didn’t want to be with. All I had left were years of words and emotions I could not deal with, and decades of strife, and hurt, and confusion. It covered up anything worthwhile and would continue to eat away at all I had become until I could let it go.
All I wanted was to be a better person.
Some find alcohol, or religion, or any other pay-as-you-go vice. I chose hot yoga or rather it chose me. I still don’t know why. Nor could I label it a calling, for you have to be weak to be called, and I (not then, not now) could ever admit to being weak. I could never admit the truth, but I could seek it. I could search for some sort of salvation, even absolution.
Yoga seemed easier than religion. It was cheaper than therapy. It seemed available, in the now. It was a match, for me. It made no promises and there were no guarantees. I could give even less.
Still yoga, was three-fourths for all it was worth, and three-fourths became a solution to most of what I had been dealing with, a cure for issues I didn’t even know I had and protection against future troubles certain to slip under my door. So did I need salvation and did I find it, if that’s what this is? Could I render myself powerless to something where only you have the power to transform? Was giving in to yourself, the same thing as giving up completely? Is it truly spiritual when your spirit was not always there?
If yoga is salvation then it is also a contradiction. To be saved you must have beliefs, and to believe in yoga is to believe in oneself. Can you find salvation on a yoga mat? If you can come to find yourself when nothing was there, how could you reply to that question honestly?
As much as yoga may be the answer, it remains very much a question.
“Where something becomes extremely difficult and unbearable, there we also stand already quite near its transformation.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
J.G. Lewis is a writer and photographer, a dreamer and wanderer, father and brother (an orphan of sorts), living in Toronto area. Formerly an award-winning journalist, he now writes mainly fiction and poetry. He practices Bikram Yoga, doesn’t take the camera out enough, and enjoys the snap, crackle and pop of music on vinyl. You can read more of J.G. on his website, www.mythosandmarginalia.com. Follow him on Facebook, catch his daily breath on Twitter at @sayit4word.
Editor: Dana Gornall