Friday, August 22, 2014

"Yin, Yang, Yogini": Don't let the title turn you away

I fell in love with this book.

Not only did I fall in love with the story, but Kathryn E. Livingston's 'Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman's Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace' made me fall in love with the power of yoga all over again.

I first must confess that I am a yogini, and I intend to take my practice to the next level this fall and go through yoga teacher training.  Non-yoga people might be totally turned away by the title (it's not the best title to make non-yoga people want to read it), but it's more a story of finding yourself in a dark place and discovering the power within to gain healing and lightness in your own life.  It's a story that yoga people or non-yoga people can relate to, and Livingston's writing style and stories make you want to know her and read more about her experiences.

I didn't know anything about Kathryn E. Livingston before reading this book, but I feel like she is my friend now.  She is insightful, funny, honest, and smart.  Before this book, she wrote columns for parenting magazines and Working Mother magazine, and she has co-authored books about parenting. In this memoir, she turns her keen life observations from parenting to her opinions and experiences as she ventures into the world of yoga.

At the age of 51, Kathryn feels stuck.  Stuck by fear of living.  Stuck by the grief over her mother's death.  Stuck by the unknown of her three sons who embrace life and are at the crossroads of adulthood.  She goes to a therapist who suggests Kathryn tries yoga to help her reach a more peaceful place in her stressed out existence.  Rather than turning to anti-depressants or medication to help her through her anxiety, Kathryn decides to try the yoga studio that recently opened just a block away from her home.  Her experiences are transformative and she discovers that maybe just as yoga philosophy preaches, there are no coincidences in life and that yoga can help her through some of the most difficult moments she will ever encounter with a peaceful awareness and calmness that she has never possessed.

Each vignette that Kathryn shares about her yoga classes and her inspirational teachers made me think of all my wonderful yoga instructors who have each taught me so much about myself and the world.  I think of Pat and his Thursday night classes that I called "Thursday night therapy" and how each class would start with Pat's take on the atmosphere of the room.  Some nights were about change and growth, and how even though periods of change bring uncertainty, we can reach out and say, "Why not?" and enjoy the changes we encounter.  Some nights were about acceptance.  Some nights were about challenge.  I think of gentle Dayna and her ability to make me really aware of the space I created in my body through my movements, and how each breath allowed me to lengthen and elongate.  I've changed through yoga as a person, and seeing it through Kathryn's experiences was a huge validation for how much love and appreciation I have for yoga and all my fellow yoga devotees and my instructors.

Kathryn's insights in the two years that this book spans are inspirational.  Through her growing love of yoga, she starts to see the interconnectedness of things around her and she starts to have some huge realizations about life.  As she works through her feelings about her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment she realizes, "I always thought it totally unnecessary for bad things to happen to appreciate what we have; but the truth is, we do sometimes need to step into the darkness to understand how bright our light really is." I think about that from all of the hardest times in my life.  After going through the dark period, I realize how strong I really am.

I also really related to her ability to see that she receives exactly what she needs, exactly when she needs it.  It's like in the book 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho where the main character just needs to be open to the universe for the universe to open up to him.  Kathryn's yoga instructor, Jill, gives her class the message that "We get what we need." It's like that Rolling Stone's song.  We can't always get what we want, but we just might find that we get what we need. Kathryn adds, "If we need to be awakened, something will open our eyes."

By the end of the book, Kathryn waxes philosophical on the two overarching life lessons that yoga and her bout with breast cancer taught her.  "The first, that when you're in the darkness, know that the light will come.  We are light and dark, sun and moon, male and female, yin and yang; life is composed of opposites, in a continuing cycle of change. The second, when you are in the light, don't step back into the darkness. Live in the light, and breathe it in fully."  I took deep breaths while reading this book and felt that it was like oxygen or like ujjayi breath in yoga.  It helped me to feel alive and invigorated by life's possibilities of balance, strength and inner peace.

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