I was recently supervising my preschooler in the tub and, while he engaged in an imaginary battle between a Thomas the Tank Engine bath squirter and a Fisher Price fisherman, decided to pick up my shampoo bottle and read the text. This text informed me that, by using this particular product, I would obtain results that would give me the hair that I both desired and deserved.
The desired part, I could identify with. Of course, I desire healthy, shiny, full, fresh smelling and bouncy hair with appropriate fullness. I certainly desire to protect my hair from anything that might cause damage. This may be a whole lot of hope to place in dead skin cells, but I could not deny as I read the back of that bottle that, yes, I desired these things. Admittedly, I also made my purchase with some hope that using this particular product would, in fact, help me obtain a head of hair that had just this list of delicious qualities. For those of you who know me, I currently have a head of hair to rival Elvira—-it’s super long, grey at the temples and generally swept up in a casual way with a clip. So, if I have desires for my hair, it’s both a whole lot of desire and a whole lot of hair to desire it with.
The deserved part, well, this seems problematic (at best!). Exactly what kind of hair do I deserve and what have I done to deserve hair with these qualities? I was immediately brought back to a Bill Crosby sketch where he made fun of folks who got drunk to the point of being physically ill at happy hours on Fridays because they had worked so hard that week that they deserved to get drunk. [Curious? Need a good laugh? Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYsko_tc3a0 ] After an immediate chuckle at this remembering, I started to think about the relationship between our yoga practice and what we desire and deserve.
In general, although we may not be honest with ourselves about the nature of our desire, we start taking yoga classes or start any specific class or practice with a certain goal or want or need that we would like to have satisfied. We want to relieve stress, feel better, have more energy, look younger, be more fit, lose weight, make friends, be able to say that we too do yoga and fit in, lower our chances of heart disease, get pregnant or find some kind of blissful state. These desires can be helpful in our practice when we acknowledge them with honesty (satya) and a certain level of willingness to release the desire long enough to focus on our breath and the practice at hand. Perhaps our practice will show us that we have passions and desires that we were not aware of or not able to name. In this sense, our practice can help illuminate certain truths about ourselves that may have been hidden. This type of self-awareness is priceless and our practice, as it evolves, will reveal a revolving set of desires as well.
Thinking about the concept of deserve is at once very non-yogic and what yoga is all about. It’s at the heart of so many philosophical debates about why bad things happen to good people. Exactly what does anyone deserve and what role do we play in facilitating our own receipt of that just reward or just punishment. In some ways, this is part of our exploration of satya (honesty) and ahimsa (non-violence). When we are honest during our practices and create a flow of movement and breath that is steady and rhythmic that, in turn, steadies the mind, then we are also honoring our limits. We are, one might say, getting the practice we deserve. What happens when we fail to honor our limits? The breath is short and our muscles are shaky and our footing is un-centered. We feel weak, overwhelmed and our minds jump from one instruction to the next, one pose to the next, one shaky and aching shoulder/neck/thigh to the next. In this case, one might also say that we are getting the practice we deserve. On the other hand, we may just be re-enforcing the beliefs that we have about what we deserve that we carry with us on and off the mat.
I would like to suggest that you deserve a calm breath, ease through body and mind and a relationship with spirit that is both an inspiration and guide to act according to your highest ideals. I desire this for you. While you may desire a toned and lighter body, less stress, greater sex appeal or a sweaty romp through a familiar and anonymous flow—-you might get what you don’t deserve! Injury, headaches, a racing heart, exhaustion, shallow breath and negative thoughts racing through your mind about how you would have been able to keep up if you were just a little younger, thinner, or more fabulous. Desire is an intention that we can guide to a variety of opportunities and possibilities. This week, in your practice, notice what you desire and see if you get what you deserve.
If all seems a great failure, I assure you that, apparently, bliss is available from an easily obtained bottle of shampoo straight off the shelf at Rite Aid—-for less than $4.00. So, with a guarantee so close by and so economically obtained, what do you have to lose if you expand these concepts and take them onto your mat with you this week? Before coming into a pose, honestly ask what it is that you desire from it. When you come out of the pose, experience what it is that you deserve. Exhale. You are beautiful!