Yesterday at the university gym where I work out, I initially didn’t recognize the student staffer at the front desk. But as I pedaled up a sweat, I realized that he resembled someone I hadn’t seen since winter. That guy was much beefier (the overstuffed look of a misguided male trying to “get huge”), with cropped hair rather than this guy’s Brady Bunch curls. A brother, perhaps?
Turns out, he was the same guy. It was his senior year and he’d been cutting his hours to focus on school. During that time he also lost 43 pounds.
“I barely recognized you!” I said. “You look great. What made you change your whole workout and lose that weight?”
“I was 243 pounds,” he said. “I just wasn’t feeling good. I’d get out of breath and everything. Just wanted to get in shape.”
Quite an impressive physical transformation: Losing 43 pounds in less than six months. Growing the hair into a curly mop. Creating a new look that could fool even spies like me.
Transformation and yoga
I was intrigued by this 22-year-old’s turnaround, perhaps because I’m fascinated by all human transformation. When I see it happen, it inspires me. Whether physical, emotional, or intellectual, change is hard.
Change seems especially difficult for adults. A baby morphs from month to month, week to week, even day to day. Growth is inherent in babyhood. Just by being alive, they grow. Adults need to make it happen.
Once, when my Iyengar yoga teacher held us in a challenging pose, a classmate broke the tension with a joking complaint. My teacher responded good-humoredly, and then added, “Yoga is about transformation. And you don’t expect transformation to come easily, do you?”
I often think about her words. I’ve never minded that yoga is challenging. In Iyengar yoga, I can’t get away with sloppiness anywhere. But these very challenges seem necessary for any breakthroughs. While “anything goes” yoga might offer solace for a moment, it is probably less likely to spur real transformation, which seems to need that classic arc: effort, achievement, rest.
Our physical improvement though asana is probably obvious to us all. Barring injury, we can do poses better today than on day one. But I wonder if changes in my body are spurring mental maturity. That is my challenge. I don’t need to lose weight or grow my hair or do crazy arm balances. But I do need to outgrow a mental “bad habit” or two. How can my asana practice spur that change?
Image: Butterfly farm, Costa Rica, 2003