As we approached a stop light the other day, my daughter shouted at the top of her lungs “STOOOOOP, IT’S YELLOW!!!” Naturally, I slammed on the breaks, threw out a solid ‘mom arm’ to catch the imaginary human sitting in the front seat and veered into a parking spot to ask my child what in God’s name had compelled her to scream at the top of her lungs like that. In the way only an obstinate 3 year old could explain, she shared the importance of stopping at a yellow light. Trying not to shun my pint size back seat driver, I calmly explained that the yellow light is a cautionary signal, not a stopping agent. “It suggests to slow down and make a judgement call- can I make this light? Or do I need to stop and wait?” Of course, by now my daughter was well past the drama of the moment, now insisting that I blare Paw Patrol (or some other brain sucking Nickelodeon device) and could care less about her outburst or what the yellow light actually means. We drove off, leaving the lesson with my sanity parked on the side of Illinois Street…
But it got me thinking, why is there a yellow light? Green explains it pretty well- GO! While red says it all- STOP! Why is there a middle option? It struck me as the reason is the same as why I love yoga so much. Yoga has been called the ‘middle way’ due to its innate ability to strike a balance. The word yoga means ‘union’ suggesting that we are bringing opposites to be joined.
If we only had the green light, we’d speed past on an adrenaline high all the time, certain to eventually crash. If we only had a red light, progress would never occur. Everything would build and pile up until we were at one giant stand still. The lights mimic the gunas : rajas, tamas and sattva. Rajas (action, movement) is the green light, tamas (inertia, lethargy) is the red light and sattva (balance, peace) is the yellow light.
If you drive, you’ll know that yellow lights are fleeting. It’s only a brief moment for you to make the judgement ‘do I stay or do I go’ (insert The Clash). The yellow light gives us a second to decide to slow down or speed up. This is also the role of yoga- it’s the middle way for us to decide what’s out of balance, and what actions do I need to take (or not take) in order to restore balance.
If you’ve blown a yellow light, only to be caught with a red (and if you’re in Chicago- have your picture taken and receive a mailed ticket!) then you know the dread of when we miss the signs and land out of whack. Yoga is a practice that teaches us balance, and just like driving, takes years to hone your skills. Even after years of practice, you will still have missteps. You will still misjudge how far the light is. You will still overpromise and underdeliver, however the reaction may soften with experience.
Yoga is like the yellow light, it’s there for us to practice our judgement calls. Yoga is the middle way because it neither wants us to hit the accelerator nor slam on the breaks- but utilize the tools we need when appropriate.
As you start to take your yoga off of your mat (and even in your asana practices) notice when you need to pull back (are you holding a pose so aggressively you can’t breath?!) or when you need to give more gas (are you so lethargic that you’re balancing your checkbook while holding a headstand?!). The yoga practice is here to guide us, much like a yellow light, to make judgements on how to be in balance.