Monday, September 27, 2010

Label This

This morning, one of my yoga students asked me about yesterday's half-marathon. Another student overheard and said, "Oh, you're a runner." Which made me think, "I'm not a runner. I just run because I have to in order to finish triathlons. Runners are those people who...well...run." Wait, what?

Is there a difference between someone who runs and a runner? Is everyone who goes to a yoga class a yogi? If I knit a scarf, am I a knitter? Does every activity I participate in give me a label?

That would make me a wife, a mother, a yoga teacher, a yogini, a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer, a triathlete, a knitter, a writer, a housekeeper, a kayaker, a hiker, a meditator, a bookkeeper...

And you wonder why I'm tired sometimes. How can I be all those people?

Our left-brain-oriented society is very fond of labels. We like to put people into named categories. Then we decide which categories we like, which ones we tolerate, and which ones we don't like. When we put someone into a category we expect them to be like everyone else in that category and get thrown off when they don't really fit.

All this labeling makes it hard to experiment, to try new things, because if, for example, you tell someone you went to the pool and swam a few laps, you are likely to hear, "Oh, I didn't know you were a swimmer." Bam! Just like that, you have to make a choice. Either you own up to the fact that you doggie paddled up and down the lap lanes three times, or you accept that label and set out to make yourself fit into that category.

Marketing companies love this. Before you know it you have a whole list of things to buy so you have all the stuff the other people in your new category already have. They make you think that you can't just go out and have fun riding your bike unless you have a pair of overpriced padded shorts and a pointy, aerodynamic helmet. You have to go get yourself a career label to pay for it all.

My own beloved yoga practice now qualifies me for a mega-label. When Satchidananda chanted "om" at Woodstock, could he have foreseen what yoga would become in America? It's too big for just one label. Yoga had to get sub-labeled, because people who do gym yoga aren't like those hippie ashram yogis. Yoga Journal even created a quiz so you could figure out which category to stick yourself in. (How else would you know whether to buy spandex and a yoga mat-sized towel or a white cotton tunic and a pretty woven rug?)

How did something which is supposed to get rid of all the labels get so many labels?

Yes, that's right. Yoga is not about putting yourself into a category. It's not designed to help you fit in. Yoga is about shutting up the labeling left brain and having a really nice visit with the right brain. The right brain is like that kid you hung out with when your parents dragged you to that lame cabin in the middle of nowhere for summer vacation. You know, the kid you knew you'd never see again so you dropped all the posing and were just you around him. (If you remembered his name you'd be looking him up on Facebook right now.) The right brain knows the real, label-free you. But it takes more than a couple of hours and Google to get back in touch.

If only my right brain had internet.

I do things. I try stuff. I have experiences. None of those things are who I am. I am an infinite spirit taking a turn at this finite flesh-and-blood existence we call life. And every now and then, while standing on my eco-friendly natural rubber mat wearing my name-brand yoga pants, I know that.

I am not a runner. I run and I am. That's the difference.
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