When Yoga Doesn't Work
by Laura Dillon
Don't be fooled. Yoga doesn't work. Sure it's in all the media as the newest, hottest trend. All the movie stars are doing it, all the athletes. Your sister, your mother, even your boss swears it is the cure all. Don't believe them. When you really need yoga to work, it doesn't.
I figured it out while pregnant with my second daughter. I was seven weeks pregnant when I began to throw up in meditation. Then came the dizziness in standing poses and exhaustion from pranayama practice. Inversions threw me off balance for the rest of the day. Pregnancy had taken over my life. I tried hundreds of asanas to ward off morning sickness. Each proved unsuccessful.
I dabbled with potions, chanting, acupressure, massage; you name it. I even stuck out my tongue and had Ayuredic guru Dean Campbell assess my agni. It was strong, no worry, he said. He gave me a recipe to try. I threw up concocting it, drinking it and then later thinking about it.
My pregnancy was 40 weeks long. I was sick 33 of those weeks. The only times I had any peace were those when I was teaching yoga, and then I wasn't actually practicing the poses. Clearly, yoga is not the panacea to all of life's problems.
This was confirmed again to me not long after the birth of my second daughter. With one child, I was able to squeeze out time for my daily practice. With two children, I needed twice the time on the mat but had only half. Yoga was not carving out more time in my day. It was not putting dinner on the table. In fact it was taking up my already precious time.
A year ago I was convinced yoga no longer worked when my eldest daughter became very ill for nine weeks. The doctors did multitudes of tests but no answer could be found for her illness. I tried asanas and breathing practices with her to no avail. During that time, the only thing yoga did for me was stress me out. I am not sure which was more stressful, teaching as I fretted about my daughter at home or trying to find substitutes to teach for me when I needed to be caring for her and my new baby. So, yoga wasn't working. It was hard to accept after so many years of believing in, practicing, teaching and studying it. Unfortunately, I had to face the truth. I decided that I would finish teaching the session and call it quits. But then, an amazing thing happened. My daughter suddenly got better.
During my daughter's illness yoga seemed to be getting in my way rather than helping. It was not until I was ultimately frustrated and despaired that I turned to the yoga community to ask for something other than a substitute for my classes. I asked for prayers for my daughter Chloe. Within 24 hours, Chloe's fatigue and overall sickness disappeared with no apparent reason. Her illness remains as mysterious as its disappearance.
I believe it was the power of prayer and the giving over of control to God that cured Chloe. So just as I was confirming to myself that yoga wasn't working, overnight I found that in fact yoga does work. But my definition of yoga had changed. I was finally taking yoga off the mat and delving into other aspects of yoga.
It was through one of yoga's greatest philosophy scriptures, the Bhagavad-Gita, that I began to embrace other ways to realize God. The Gita, talks about karma, the path of work and action; jnana, the path of knowledge; and bhakti, the path of devotion. Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Jnana Yoga are three of the four paths of yoga. The fourth being Raja Yoga.
While the main practice of Raja Yoga is meditation, it also includes all other methods that help one to control body, energy, senses and mind. Hatha Yoga is often included within the classification of Raja Yoga. The Hatha-Yogi uses asanas, pranayama, relaxation and other practices to gain control of the physical body and prana.
All the paths lead ultimately to the same destination - to the union with God. In my years of practice I had looked only to hatha yoga as my path to realization. In reading the Gita I realized I needed to practice differently and look at my life differently to see how yoga fit in.
As I mentioned before, the only time I felt good during pregnancy was while I was teaching yoga. At eight and nine months pregnant, it was easy to let go of the ego and just teach. Looking back on those long days of pregnancy, I realize that while teaching I did not battle with the new soul inside of me. Instead, I gave myself completely to the Divine and taught just for the sake of teaching.
As soon as I stepped back from being totally in control and let God take over, I did not feel the need to throw up. I discovered that while pregnant, was not practicing yoga in the western sense. That is, my practice was not on the mat. Instead I was practicing Karma yoga, a path that is equally good to hatha yoga as it also can be a path to samadhi or enlightenment. Karma yoga teaches you to act selflessly, without thinking about how you will benefit.
My second experience with a different yogic path was with Bhakti Yoga, a practice based on fervent adoration of and surrender to the Divine. Through prayer, worship and ritual the practitioner surrenders herself to God, channeling her emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God forms a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga. Though I have not actually practiced Bhakti Yoga, I believe in the power of faith and chanting and better understand how it alone could help one to realize the Divine.
When I was feeling hopeless about finding a reason behind my daughter's illness, I turned to my fellow yogis and my faith in God to help her get better. I decided not to focus on finding the reason behind her illness. There is no doubt in my mind that prayers from the yoga community were powerful and instrumen-tal in her recovery.
In the yoga sutras, (Book I. Sutra 14) it is said that practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness. One of my teachers always reminds me "practice makes better". Yoga and its scriptures have given me a better understanding of what practice is and can be. In the past, I interpreted better to mean a better practitioner. Now I see that practice makes yoga better as well.
Yoga is the process of clearing away the veil to reveal Divine Reality. The veil for me had become a definition of what my yoga practice was. It was the reading of yoga scriptures and gaining more knowledge into yogic paths that I began to embrace yoga once again.
During these difficult times, my yoga practice changed. I am thankful for these times in that I feel my understanding of yoga broadened. Through prayers, patience, knowledge and teaching, I was able to let go of a preconceived idea. I am now able to enjoy my asana, pranayama and meditation practice without expectations. And I learned how to practice in a different way.