Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yoga is Like Brushing Your Teeth

As slightly icky as the metaphor may be, for me, sometimes, practicing yoga really does feel like brushing my teeth.

Don’t get me wrong. I love brushing my teeth. It’s one of the first things that I do after getting up in the morning. I relish getting that old stale overnight sleepy mouth feeling efficiently cleansed out at the start of a new day.

And on it goes. I love brushing my teeth because it always provides a sense of a fresh start, a cleansing of any weird tasting or smelling or feeling gunk that’s built up in the course of the day.

What’s this got to do with yoga? One might think the serious practitioner, who tosses around talk of Tantra, Prana, and Hathayogapradapika, might find this tooth-brushing analogy inappropriately mundane. Maybe even (for more sensitive souls) slightly insulting . . . ? But I hope not.

Because like most yoga practitioners, I’m mired in the gunk of everyday life. Not living in a cave in the Himalayas, not off (or at least not often enough) luxuriating in a serene, pristine retreat center.

Rather, I’m dealing with bills and car repairs and the unwelcome news that my nine-year-old may have gotten head lice from his friend. I find that one of my two cats has once again barfed on the rug . . . and continue to cope with the rather demented one who regularly insists on peeing outside of the litter box.

There’s back injuries and communication breakdowns. Anxious partners, nutso family members, and over-busy friends.

And that’s when things are going really well.

Then there’s the ambient anxiety of early 21st century life . . . does the Tea Party / financier alliance remind you of Weimar? Oh, and getting out of the car the other day, my nine-year-old matter-of-factly asks, “Mom, Gabe says that if we keep not taking care of the environment, the world’s going to end in five years. Do you think that that’s true?”

So when I step onto my mat to practice, I’ve got all this psychic gunk that’s built up in my mind-body-spirit system over the course of just another regular day.

And just like brushing my teeth, it feels really great to do something to clean it out – at least as much as can be done for the day. (Certainly, my teeth aren’t going to become perfect, and neither is my body/being.)

But I trust in the process, and it always works.

As reliably as my favorite Cinnamint toothpaste . . .

     Breathe. Shift from thinking into feeling. Move.

     Spinal twist. Forward bend. Inversion.

     Shoulder opener. Hip opener. Mind opener. Feeling processer.

I finish my practice; open my eyes. The light is brighter, clearer, softer – more radiant, more beautiful.

I reconnect with the energy of life a bit more deeply.

I feel

     so much

          . . . better!

And then it’s back to “regular life,” where the gunk builds up even while I’m tasting the sweetness.

But that’s OK, because I’m fortunate enough to have a good toothbrush, and a simple Hatha yoga practice.

Nothing fancy today. Sometimes it’s different – sometimes yoga feels more like transformation and transcendence than brushing teeth. But since I always return to some version of the “real world,” I’m grateful to have that mundane, tooth-brushing type of practice as a cleansing part of my everyday life.


  1. There is a good literary balance in this article. However, I have found it more therapeutic to the intellectual faculty to conceive yoga, not as a modern therapeutic phenomenon or as an ancient fossil but as a postmodern, social project. This approach certainly rules out the apparent incompatibility in mode of the ancient Himalayan recluse and a modern, busy parent: "giving up the metaphysical security that guarantees sameness and allowing the radicality of diversity and difference possibly even irreconcilable difference to play itself out. Postmodernity is willing to risk presuppositions, foundations, criteria in the name of difference."

  2. yoga is life as Krishnamacharya said.

    and as I tell my students, if something isn't changing for you internally off the mat, then it's not yoga. it's as simple as that.

  3. Carol,
    Lovely post about your practice as a daily routine. The sentence "Nothing fancy today"made me especially happy. And, yes, sometimes a class is particularly challenging or moves some energy around that changes your whole day/week/life, but it's the simple act of going to the mat and finding a little peace that becomes so habit-forming and comforting. Yoga is like a morning hug.

  4. I enjoyed this blog post very much!