Sure, I'd known about yoga before then-- it was something my mom and her New Age-y friends did after "Jazzercise" lost its luster amongst yuppies in the late 80s or 90s (or whenever. I can't say that I, as a teenage male, was paying a whole lot of attention.)
All I knew was, there was now this mysterious Eastern "stretching thing" that may or may not involve a bunch of chanting and incense, and-- from what I could gather-- it was all about moving s-l-o-w.
Which, of course, held zero appeal to a teenage male obsessed with BMX biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, video games, heavy metal music-- really, anything fast and flashy and loud and "not yoga."
In college, I may have mellowed out a bit. I read classic lit and traded my electric for an acoustic guitar. While attending the University of Southern California in my junior and senior year, I started to care a bit more about the kinds of foods I was putting into my body. Though for every "healthy" meal I might have consciously chosen over the alternative, I still had a "dessert addiction" that kept my system on constant sugar high (which, in retrospect, wreaked havoc on my moods, my sleep cycle, and my general well-being.)
With a faster-than-average metabolism, however, and near-perfect weather for running, swimming, and bodyboarding in the Pacific, I managed to stay "physically fit"-- while suffering almost continuously from severe anxiety, restlessness, and, at times, depression.
By the time I was twenty-two years old, I had secured employment in the film and television industry in Hollywood, I had started selling my own artwork to private collectors, I was maintaining a strict vegetarian diet (for ethical and health reasons), and I was-- unfortunately-- miserable.
Despite all of my early successes and good intentions, I could not seem to figure out how to get this "mind-body-spirit thing" in balance.
So I decided to leave Hollywood in order to do volunteer work in impoverished communities in Israel (thinking that maybe if I could become a better, less selfish person, I might have less anxiety). And during the summer I spent back in Pennsylvania-- in between my leaving Los Angeles and my going to the Middle East-- I discovered my mom's copy of "Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness" by Erich Schiffmann and thought:
Maybe this is the answer.
I recall it being very dense and wordy; I can't say that I actually read all of those words.
It was enough to know that someone had so much (seemingly important) stuff to say about the topic.
Nor did I actually "do" the poses.
I mean, how I am suppose to read about a pose and do it at the same time? How am I supposed to remember them in sequence?
Logistically demanding and t-e-d-i-o-u-s.
But I did keep the book nearby, whenever I needed inspiration.
I'd flip through the pages, see the model embodying that "stillness" Schiffmann (and yoga) promised, and that would be enough to assure me that someday I would somehow muster the discipline to try this thing out for myself.
At the end of the summer, when it came time to leave for Israel, I packed the book into my gigantic wheeling duffel and headed off into the Great Unknown.
Over the next several months-- as a peaceful, summer-camp-like September turned into an escalating cycle of riots and suicide bombings, protests and military actions-- my anxiety and restlessness returned with a vengeance.
I felt utterly powerless in a situation I could neither understand nor control.
I would sit there on my bed, in an isolated Russian youth village on the edge of the desert, staring at the yoga book-- as if I could absorb everything contained therein through osmosis.
But yoga (I would discover the hard way) is a practice, first and foremost.
You don't reap the benefits of a practice merely by reading about it.
You probably won't "move into stillness" by staring at still photos of other people moving into stillness. (Even if you're sitting perfectly still. It's probably not the same thing.)
But I will tell you this.
If you stare at a book long enough-- and reap none of the benefits that would likely come with an actual practice-- you might finally put down the book, get out of bed, and get on the mat.
It would take me another few years of not-quite-commitment before I would develop anything resembling a consistent yoga "practice."
But without that book-- without whatever osmosis may actually have occurred in the summer and fall of 2000-- I may never have made it this far down the path.
So thank you, Erich Schiffmann, for writing that book. And thank you, mom, for buying it. (Sorry if you didn't realize I took it to Israel with me. I'm not sure if I asked.)
In retrospect, I guess I managed to learn something valuable about practicing by not practicing-- and about stillness, by not moving into it for so long.
Yes, it's been quite awhile since I've thought about "Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness."
Maybe it's time to actually read it.