fitness · motivation · yoga

Psyched out: Spirituality, the yoga space, and laughter (Guest post)

My favourite piece of fitness advice is that “the best exercise is the one that you will do.” I have spent much of my life trying to find exercise I can stand. I discovered that I can always get myself to do yoga, which is why I’ve become committed to it. Also, I can do it anywhere — except small hotel rooms! And I’ve found with time that I really enjoy the psychological benefits.

But I find the notion of “psychological” benefits to be clinical in a way that puts me off. I have no trouble taking medicine, but it grates for me to think of yoga that way. Yet, a friend (who is actually a clinical psychologist) speaks of the “spiritual” benefits of yoga in a way that refers to the mental aspects.

I have resisted yogic spirituality because my view of the universe is not especially religious or non-material. Sure, I like to chant “ohm,” but that’s for three material reasons: I like to sing, I enjoy how the voices come together, and I like in the vibration on my lips from the final “mmmmm.” There is nothing religious or metaphysical about it. But “spirituality” describes seems to describe the changed orientation I get from yoga, the patience, the humour, and the pleasure in physicality. I view those as important aspects of my fitness.

Lately, I have neglected the need I have for physical exercise, strength training especially. I’ve not been practicing yoga the three times a week I find is essential to maintaining strength; sometimes taking yin yoga which is beautifully relaxing and can be a mental challenge but requires little strength. Further, the ashtanga program I dipped in and out of has moved to another studio, and it’s become clear that I need to “up my game” and add some strength training to my routine.

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A large dog with a white heart-shaped face and legs and black ears and saddle looks straight into the camera. She stands on a striped rug, her white tail blurred from wagging.

I’ve tried to run a little, but I need to strengthen my legs, and to be honest that may not be an option for me anymore. Now the weather is better, I’m walking a lot more and getting back to my bike, and my dog Chloe is very encouraging. Spending time with her is part of my spiritual practice too. But strength, strength, strength…. my physician has been telling me for years that yoga would not cut it, but I didn’t want to believe.

So I am trying some other things out. I’ve tried barre classes at my yoga studio, and I really, really like them — I felt better for the whole next week, stronger and more limbre. Barre mixes pilates, dance, yoga, and functional strength training. In a single class we do all the exercises I’ve been given by physiotherapists, and a range more, plus I enjoy the lively music. Because it’s in a yoga studio, I feel happier — more spiritually at home, perhap. I went to a gym last week too, and I laughed while working out, when it got tough. People stared. People don’t stare in yoga, and they laugh. That’s part of the spiritual element that I value! I don’t want to say, as others do, that the yoga studio or the mat have a positive energy. I would say instead that my relationship with the studio and the mat involves all sorts of positive associations and vanishingly few negative ones; it is happy and resilient. I aim to to take that spirituality, as I will now allow myself to call it, into other places as I change up my fitness routine. If I have to, I will laugh at myself in the gym.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Windsor, Canada, where I am also cross-appointed to Women’s and Gender Studies and Director of the Interdisciplinary PhD program in Argumentation Studies.

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