I have a hedonist friend who would rather die early from a sustained binge of wine, women and bacon than to devote a second of his resignedly short life eating vegetables and lifting weights.He smirks in condescension when I praise yoga. He thinks it’s a bunch of superstitious mumbo jumbo and—worse yet—exercise.
It may be those things.
But it also feels effing fantastic.
Sure it may be a “practice” and a “discipline” but yoga is the discipline of getting in touch with your primal self. In yoga you are trying to find that part of yourself that is more animal than human, the part of you that is wild and naked and doesn’t give a damn, but it goes even deeper than “animalistic” in the primitive sense. The cat does not know she is a cat on a human’s rug. She doesn’t know that the sunbeam she leans into comes from a giant ball of fire a billion miles away. She knows this: Mmmm. Stretching good.
That’s the goal in yoga. To forget your woes, forget your chores, forget your name. Think only of how to perfect the stretch, nothing else. And as you do, the stretch rewards you immediately by loosening and relaxing your body. The “rigorous discipline” of yoga includes commands like: straighten your back a little higher, relax your shoulders, let your weight pull your forward. You go where your body needs to go, following the pace of your breath.
It is such a stupidly simple task that our human brains could never master it like a cat could. We insist on thinking of the bills or the knitting or who farted. It is shocking how difficult it is for a human to simply lean into the stretch and think of nothing but that moment and the lovely physical sensation happening in the body. How sad and ridiculous that I should get so excited when I’m doing it well: Will ya’ look at that? I’m breathing and balancing on one foot at the same time…and thinking of nothing else! Wait, thinking about thinking of something else is thinking about…shit.
The odd mingling of “highly challenging” and “relaxed leisure” has the same effect as a mind-numbing cell phone game: your brain is being challenged, but in a safe space, free from the perils of the other decisions you make throughout the day. It’s easy to get hooked on a combination of comfort and challenge. Of course though yoga has the same appeal as an addictive app, its affects are the opposite. The app may leave you frustrated and bottled up, and so tuned out of the world that you miss your train stop. While yoga makes you feel fit, relaxed, invigorated and alive.
Yet unlike your prescribed garden-variety vegetables (see what I did there?) or the workout routine that makes you regret consciousness, yoga is never a chore. Yoga is gluttonous. Everything is slow; your very breath is savored. But even as I admit yoga is a luxurious use of time, it feels so good that there has never been a time in my life when I regretted doing it. It is the ultimate indulgence—even the cat doesn’t devote an hour or more lying around and stretching.
What could be more hedonistic than that?