An Excerpt from May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by in Wake-Up Call

Cyndi_Leeby Cyndi Lee

An excerpt from May I be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind.

Every day I meet a woman who tells me how much she loves my gray hair and how much she wants to let her own hair go gray. She says that she thinks I am so brave but she is not yet ready to be that brave. But having gray hair doesn’t feel brave to me. What it feels is good and liberating and natural and healthy in so many ways.

I’m no longer strengthening the imprints that tell me I’m wrong or need improvement—at least in my hair department. That might not seem like a big deal but it is. Those old neurological synapses with the grouchy inner voice have dissolved and new ones have formed around positive feelings toward my silver locks. It might not seem like a big deal and in the grand scheme of suffering, it is a Cadillac problem. But for me it was a significant step toward self-acceptance, and in that way, I guess it was brave.

That little bit of motivation started turning my thought wheels in the opposite direction. I remembered what my meditation teacher told me, that being kind to others has to start with being kind to ourselves. And isn’t that the very first teaching of yoga, ahimsa, which means non-harming of self and others? How could I turn this thing around?

One day, a few months after arriving home from India, full of my habitual frustration, discontent, and grumpiness about my body, a space opened up in the thicket of mental brambles and this thought floated in: “You already have everything you need to be happy.”

Bingo! All of us experience moments of insight that pop up out of nowhere. Maybe it was a matter of time and practice … drip, drip, drip, the bucket fills. Or maybe something more ordinary like boredom or exhaustion or jet lag slows us down long enough to notice.

What I wanted had been there all along, but I was too busy creating my own dukha to notice it. I see that tendency in my students, too. They might be sitting nicely in a pose but the space between their eyebrows has a deep crease that tells me they are in pain. When I ask them about it, it’s almost like I woke them out of a nap. A typical reply might be, “Oh yeah, this position always kills me. It’s been like that for years. I just don’t have good shoulders.”

When I suggest that they loosen their grasp and use a yoga belt to allow the position to be held with less stress on their shoulders, it comes as a huge revelation! What a good idea. Here’s a way to do the same thing without struggling and I could have been doing it that way all along. And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with your shoulders!

That day, in the snap of a finger, I saw that I had gotten it wrong all these years! I was always getting mad at my body but, in fact, my body has been fine. It’s my relationship to my body that is hurting me, and my mind that is the real troublemaker. The truth is, although I’ve always had a perfectly fine, healthy body, I have thought and felt that I was too fat or too soft or too thin or too little here or too big there every day of my life. Simply put, I am addicted to hating my body, and really, to hating myself.

Clearly, it’s my mind that needs to change, not my body. Instead of looking outside myself for a better diet, a more effective exercise plan, a face lift in a bottle, or an ultra-enthusiastic bra, I needed to examine my habitual ways of thinking—this addiction that has so defined my own self-image. I began to wonder who I would be without it. The first step to finding the answer to that question was to take a closer look at the problem.

What’s the real reason I hate my body? I’m starting to understand that I’ve been basing my happiness on a specific condition, a condition that is not only impossible to achieve but is also a moving target. Like all forms of conditional happiness—more chocolate, shopping, money, alcohol—running after a “perfect” body can only result in hamster wheels of confused, desperate, and repetitive activity. Just like any other form of craving, there is no end to it, and no lasting satisfaction is possible.

This insight had been trying to get my attention for a while. Just like yoga students who stay in a position for years without even noticing, I hadn’t even realized I was miserable but now that I did, I saw how long I’d been this way. I saw all the ways that I had tried to feel better by changing my body, looking everywhere for answers except for inside my head.

Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga Center, is the first Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism into her practice and teaching.

The OM Yoga Warm-Up Sequence

Take a comfortable cross-legged seat on a small cushion or folded blanket.

Inhale slowly for four counts.

Exhale slowly for four counts.

Repeat this three times, always breathing in and out through your nose.

Begin the warm-up sequence by inhaling and alternate exhaling with each position.

  1. Inhale, interlace your fingers, and reach your palms up to the ceiling.
  2. Exhale, bend your elbows, place your hands behind your head, and look up, opening your chest.
  3. Inhale, reach your palms back up to the ceiling.
  4. Exhale, round your back as you press your palms forward, away from your chest.
  5. Inhale, arms up next to your ears, fingers reaching to the ceiling.
  6. Exhale, twist to the right.
  7. Inhale, arms up to the ceiling.
  8. Exhale, twist to the left.
  9. Inhale, interlace your fingers behind you and lift your chest up to the sky.
  10. Exhale, release your arms forward as you fold over your legs.
  11. Inhale, round up through your spine, lean back, and balance on your sitting bones with your fingertips on the floor behind you.
  12. Exhale, sit tall with your hands in prayer in front of your chest.

Repeat three times.

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  • char

    Cyndi

    Thank you for this. I want to be at peace with my hair, body, and practice. I am not because I think there is something wrong.

    There is something wrong that my haircolor won’t remain brown. There is something wrong that haircolor lasts less than a week because I have “resistant grays”. There is something wrong because I haven’t found the “right” stylist or been able to figure out how to take care of myself.

    It all translates into there is something wrong with me. I am a mistake. I am doing something wrong.

    What I realzied more clearly from seeing your beautiful face and reading your article is that there is nothing wrong here. I am aging. My hair does not want to be brown anymore. I am afraid of what I will look like if I allow my hair to do what it wants.

    My hair, which has been something that I’ve been so proud of because it’s thick and pretty, has it’s own need to be gray.

    My body has it’s own needs too. I am having trouble accepting what’s true. I see you accepting what’s true with grace and kindness. I pray that I am able to learn from you rather than think I’m wrong because I have this issue. I’m guessing I am not the only one.

    • Imoria

      Char, this is a beautiful response to the story. You definitely not the only one; thank you for putting it all out there. *hugs*

      • KripaluEditor

        Thanks for commenting, Imoria! Neither of you are alone.
        Best to you!
        -Kim from Kripalu

        • char

          Thank you so much.

          The “resistant gray” hair color issue and the aging issue are asking for support and acceptance.

          Support, in yoga, comes in all forms. A great teacher, an adjustment in just the right moment, a bolster, the breath.

          Support with hair color can also come in all forms. A great stylist, a suggestion for a product, identifying what I really want here are all options.

          Like everything, there are so many analogies to what life presents and our practice as yogini’s and yogis. I am so grateful for what you offer at Kripalu.

          I pray that I will get there in person very soon.

          Thank you for all your feedback and support.

          • Bloom by Jennifer

            I have been a stylist for over 17 years, I adore Yoga and acceptance with your self. Some woman look so beautiful with there natural grey hair. Some woman look 10 years longer coloring and highlighting. What does your soul feel, there are no rules, it does not make you a more pure yogi if you color your hair. You need to feed your soul, what makes you feel like you! Just remember to take care of you, your heart and your soul and know that you are the only one judging! Just love yourself first!!!! Bloom by Jennifer

    • KripaluEditor

      Char,

      Thank you for sharing this inner view. I am glad Cyndi’s piece had an impact. So many of us struggle with self-acceptance, especially as women. We radiate what we feel, so holding ourselves dear allows us to truly shine and only be more beautiful.

      You are not alone.

      May you be happy!
      -Kim from Kripalu

  • Myriam Lluria Sitterson

    This is lovely and so genuine. I’ve actually learned to love my body and my wild wavy and very unruly graying hair, but it’s taken me a good 50+ years. Finding yoga again 5 years ago has been an integral part of my self-love and self-acceptance. I have never been happier than now, at 55. Friends keep asking me if I’m not going to color or straighten my (now almost waist length) hair and I have to smile and say “No, I love my grays and my wild hair.” I feel free!!

  • Pamela

    What about the other things society puts emphasis on such as make-up? If we stop coloring our hair should we also stop wearing make-up and nail polish? They all are color.