My kids teach me many things… one of them is the slang of their generation. If you are over 20, you might not know what “OG” means. It means “Original Gangster”. There is your education for today. You are very welcome.
A year or two ago they were telling me I am an “OG”. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. They assured me it was a good thing. It means someone that starts something just by being who they are. It is the person you trace back to when you wonder how something got started. David Williams is a perfect example. He’s the “Original Gangster” of yoga in Western society. He is currently writing his whole story of how this happened, but I was privileged to hear it first hand and practice in the way he was taught as the first Western student of Patthabi Jois.
Here is a link to a website that gives a brief summary of what I heard. It changed the way I focus on my asana practice. More breath. Deeper breath. More bandhas. Things I know but have not been focusing on enough.
He gave a passing comment that I want to highlight. He spoke of self-reliance. He repeated the word self-rely then it morphed to self-realize and then self-realization.
Flash back to a class in high school with “Mr. Adams” or “Chaz” as we called him. He was a bit of a guru with us teenagers. It was a psychology class. I remember him introducing us to a triangle chart. For years I remembered the concepts but not where it came from. It was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I was captivated by the idea of “self-actualization”. The problem was, how do you study that? In college I thought I wanted to be a psychology major, but all the typical arguments against it won. You know, about how impractical it is like “you can’t do anything with a psychology degree unless you get a Ph.D.” I also found that what I learned in psych classes danced around what I really WANTED to learn… but I didn’t know what it was I wanted to learn. It’s hard to major in “self-actualization” and, like I said, I couldn’t even remember what that triangle chart was called.
Flash forward to about two years ago. I am over 50 and reading the Yoga Sutras for the first time. THERE it was! It was what I had been looking for: an explanation of how to observe the brain from the inside out and steps toward mastering my own mind! It is an ancient text, and yet so completely relevant. Instead of “self-actualization” it is called “self-realization” and “enlightenment”.
At church (I am LDS) we talk a lot about “self-reliance”, but until David put the words together like he did I hadn’t connected “self-realization” to it. Think about it. How can we be self-reliant if we don’t realize who we are? The better we know ourselves, the better we can give ourselves what we need. We can only take care of ourselves if we understand HOW to do it and if we know ourselves well enough to know what will make us truly happy and well.
Yoga is about coming to know our true self (not just the façade we all make up about ourselves). This self-discovery process includes learning how to treat others and ourselves (Yamas and Niyamas), knowing how to exercise our physical bodies (asana), knowing how to bring energy (prana) into our bodies that will heal areas that need healing and clear the cobwebs that gather in our mind (pranayama). It is knowing how to focus, concentrate, rest the mind and connect as a whole within and with deity. Those are the lofty ideals of the Yoga Sutras. Studying them opened my eyes to HOW to study my thought patterns and gave me ways of being more true to my nature instead of fighting myself. It also includes a system of feeding and cleaning ourselves (aryuveda).
Changes, even positive changes, can be hard not only to make for yourself, but for people that you live and associate with. People around you are sometimes confused and unsure how to react to the way you are changing.
Last week we sat down as a family: me, my husband and four of our five kids (the oldest is 21 and the youngest is 9, our 18 year-old son is living away). I said, “When you hear the words “old people” what comes to mind?” There was no hesitation in responses and I began writing down words and phrases as fast as I could. They had plenty to say: grumpy, slow, sick, obnoxious, and about 20 more negative adjectives came. Our 21 year-old daughter suggested that maybe we should think of a few positive things too (bless her!). Generous and a few other words made the list.
Once they exhausted their thoughts I said, “We (your parents) will be getting older and older. You are seeing us change some habits like eating a cleaner diet and doing daily yoga. We are making these changes, in part, for you guys. There are no guarantees, but we hope we can take care of ourselves into old age and that you will even like being around us as old people!” The point of going through this was to elicit support. They don’t have to do what we are doing, but encouraging us and preparing some of their own food (because they want to eat things we don’t want) for example would be helpful.
David Williams says, “I am 68 and have been practicing yoga every day for 47 years and I plan to continue for another 47.” My take on aging is, “I don’t care how long I live as long as I am alive to the end. I don’t want to be half dead.” My chosen experiment is to continue to study and realize who I am and then apply what I learn so I can meet my own needs for as long as I can…hopefully until the day I die!
I would love your company on this journey and hope many of us can create a wise and healthy “old” generation over the next decades.