Revisiting the Definition of Yoga, Part II

Last week at a workshop with Tias Little, I ran into Janell Hartman, a fellow yoga instructor friend, and one who gave me my very first yoga teaching gig: she asked me to sub for a Punk Rock Yoga class when my 200-hr certificate still smelled of fresh ink.

We were catching up and talking about life when she told me a story of when she worked in Social Service. She was conducting an ice-breaker type of group exercise, where everyone would stand in a line, she would make a statement, like, “I like the ocean”, or “I like dogs”. People would take a step forward if the statement is true for them, and one step back if not.

Everything was going along smoothly, until she said, “I have a regular self care routine.” The stepping forward/stepping back halted. Two people out of a group of 40 stepped forward, and a good number paused, not knowing where to go. After a couple minutes, some stepped forward, and some stepped back. Some remained in their place.

This story was so revealing to me. What it says to me is

  1. Not a lot of us have a regular self-care routine
  2. Not a lot of us know what self-care really means in the first place

And hey, honestly, just because someone is “in the industry”, just because someone might be a yoga teacher or a wellness educator, doesn’t mean that they have a regular self-care routine. Knowing something and doing it are two very different things.

When I took my Restorative Yoga Teacher Training with Judith Hanson Lasater, on the very first day, her homework for us was:

  • Unless you go to bed at 10pm, whatever time that you regularly go to bed, go to bed 30 minutes earlier (this I failed miserably)
  • Whatever activity that you do for the next 5 days (the duration of the training), ask yourself, “What component of this activity includes taking care of myself?”

That one single question alone was a rude awakening for me. It made “turn the light back on itself”, as the Zen saying goes.

Judith went on to make a very strong case for self-care: If you are tired, if you are exhausted, you cannot be compassionate. And being compassionate is the seat, the foundation of teaching Restorative Yoga.

As a dedicated student of Yoga thought and philosophy, very often I find myself digging in old texts and sayings, ruminating about how Yoga is defined in this book and that book and by this person and that other translation. Sometimes the definition stares at me in the face, and I don’t have to go hunting for it. Yoga, I would say, in whatever form and definition, must involve self-care.