Yoga or Gym, How about Yoga and Gym?

Published with permission from Adventures of the Soul by Khadija Muhaisen Dajani

You know how there are moments in life you never forget? I had just finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training. Content with my recently discovered self. Glowing and dressed up in my beautifully-fitting clothes. Finally! As I take my first step down a flight of stairs, my heel gets stuck in the hem of my trousers. I start my descent in the air. As I am falling, I make mental arrangements for childcare during and after my hip replacement surgery, wondering how fast I can recover now that I have a stronger body.

I land on a bed of feathers. Sitting on the bottom of the stairs nursing my ego, I finally understand what my physical training has done for my body. My joints have softened. I have become malleable. I can take a fall. I still have work to do on the dramatic thinking. But that is to be continued.

A friend published an awesome short story recently. In it, he reminds me that my favorite color is rainbow. Does that reflect who I am? You bet. I have a military approach to discipline. Which implies my colour should be a solid khaki. I thrive on routine. Dreary grey. My life is a strictly-timed schedule. Brown? No. My schedule is oh-so colourful. Like the rainbow. It includes a romantic novel, yoga, cardiovascular activity, kickboxing, TRX, pilates, grown-up office work and meetings, social media surfing, and quiet reflection.

What happens when you ask an “athlete” to try yoga? Yoga is for skinny, flexible, mantra-bead, designer-legging wearing beautiful women who sip almond-milk matchas and listen to Deva Premal. Of course this yoga cannot be for everyone. Definitely not for me. I would much rather be wearing my red boxing gloves and beating up my awesome trainer at the gym while listening to country music.

Yoga is not the image we see on social media. How can one beautiful image capture the hard work, discipline, commitment, failures, soul diving, and hundreds of hours of study it takes to get to that point? Yoga is not the pose. Yoga is the journey before the pose, the soul searching during the pose, and the life after the pose and off the mat.

Yoga is yama (the ethical discipline of non-violence, truth and honesty, continence, and non-coveting), niyama (cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerities, study of the sacred scriptures, and surrender to God), asana (physical practice to strenghten the body), pranayama (breath practice – life force), pratyahara (detachment and turning our focus inwards), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and ultimately -and possibly after many lifetimes- samadhi (transcendence).

When you take a yoga class, you are invited to step into a universe of self-exploration. You are invited to meet yourself. As Glennon Doyle Melton explains in Love Warrior, when we practice yoga, we ask our representative (personality) to step aside so we can meet our self. We learn to breathe, and together with our breath we embark on a journey of self discovery, reconciliation, and healing.

Healing by building strength and flexibility, or by simply recognizing the need to heal. If you are a body-builder competing in physique competitions, you need to master the practice of pranayama to perfect your pose. You also need to address mobility at some stage in your life. Or start thinking about childcare during joint-replacing surgery. If you are a runner, you need to dedicate time to your flexibility and breathing. Otherwise, at some point, your knees are going to take a hit. If you practice martial arts, you need to balance your training with a cooling, calming yin practice. You see it is not an exclusive choice. Nor is yoga an elite club. Under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher, yoga is your life-line.

As I get older, I finally appreciate my body. Imperfections and all. I am grateful for my growing strength, mobility, and flexibility. It is all a work in progress. Who knows, maybe one day in my 70s you will see a picture of me in a glorious pose on social media. When you do, remember this: Yoga completes me. Strength-training is my orange. Red is my kickboxing. TRX is my black. Pilates is my yellow. Running is my purple. Yoga is my rainbow.

Khadija Muhaisen is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200). Follow her on Instagram @khadijasayoga and Facebook @Khadija Muhaisen Dajani.