The Joy of Survival


Despite the plausibility of good intentions, the yoga industry's emphasis on transformation around the new year feels a bit too opportunistic. Personal transformation may come as a natural progression in the context of yoga practice but the process is greatly hindered when the concept is used as a dangling carrot to sell memberships.

Owners of yoga centers know that some welcome maximization of profits can be had by working the new years resolution angle, offering a special deal that counts on the fact that most people are not going to make good on it. But exploiting human insecurities for financial gain goes against my broader purpose. Such are the ways of a reluctant businessman.

I'm not nay-saying new years resolutions or transformation. If some change is warranted and the mental will to help bring it about can be summoned then, by all means, be bold and go forth with a true intention. However, in my experience, transformation rarely comes in a flash from some flamboyant push. Real and lasting change tends to occur in a gradual and subtle way as a result of persistent effort, often recognized only in retrospect.

Instead of touting transformation, I propose we celebrate survival.

Like the modern equivalent of a Shakespearean fool, Chris Rock astutely noted that little credit or praise is bestowed for simply "banging out the rent." The notion of success has become so linked to an emaciated body and a bloated bank account that it becomes difficult to recognize or appreciate the many small and profoundly important feats we accomplish daily.

In last months' consideration of The Daunting Work Before Us, I attempted to stare down life's hardship with stark honesty and a whimsical tongue. While this may have made for some needed catharsis and empathetic reading, it did not provide much solace or inspiration.

Fortunately, I since had the pleasure of hosting a friend and fellow teacher from San Francisco named Chase Bossart. He is the co-founder of a not-for-profit organization called the Healing Yoga Foundation and a genuine scholar of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. He proffered that we don't actually have as much control over what happens to us as we might like to think. In many respects, we are just along for the ride.

The suggestion is not that life is predetermined or that we have no say in the matter, only that our ability to influence events is limited. Chase compared the way yoga practice affects change to a gardener growing a tomato plant (some may remember the theme from Mind-Body Connection Optional?.)

The gardener has no way of knowing if the plant will thrive or how many tomatoes it will produce but if the seed is planted in fertile soil and tended to carefully, providing the right mix of water, light and patience then, chances are, the plant will produce more tomatoes than otherwise.

Yoga does not transform anyone. Life does that all by itself.

All we can really do is tend to our gardens and hope for the best. Some years, unforeseen drought or swarms of parasitic bugs may wreak havoc and leave us with only roots. Other years, we have abundance. Regardless, we can always plant anew. Even a skeptic like myself can't deny that the cycle of life carries on nonetheless.

This morning, for the first time, my two year old daughter said: "I love you Daddy." Her sweet little words of unadulterated affection left me in awe at the actuality of how things are taking place. The work ahead may be daunting but there is no doubt that the rewards, when they come, are worth our efforts. Joy behooves us to survive.  



J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.