So, seeing as yoga is a very important aspect of my life, I figured I should pen a few words about what yoga means to me, and why I think it’s such a great practice to develop in one’s life. I myself have been practicing yoga for about 4 years now (just a few times a week in the first couple years, and now daily), and it’s had a tremendous positive impact upon my life.
There seems to be a common misconception amongst many that yoga is only about stretching and flexibility, and largely just a physical practice, perhaps even a trendy “fad.” Images on magazine covers of fitness models contorting their bodies in all sorts of funky postures sometimes give people the wrong impression, and could actually be considered a bastardization of an age old spiritual discipline. Other people may see yoga as a kind of Hindu religious practice/cult, and may be wary of giving it a shot due to “personal” religious beliefs (usually what some authority figure(s) told them in their childhood in exchange for “love” and belonging).
I’m gonna list off a few musings about what genuine yoga, to me, is all about. Btw, for the purposes of this article, when I use the word “yoga,” I’m referring to the practice of hatha yoga, the physical postures, or “asanas,” we do in classes.
1. Humility: first and foremost, yoga is a practice in humility. It cannot be anything but so. If we’re doing the poses but only increasing our vanity and narcissism, focusing less upon our breath and more on how sexy our reflections look in the mirror, there’s little yoga happening. Ideally, every time we step on the mat, we should experience a kind of death. Do not let this alarm you. For in each moment, as we let go of things like shame, guilt, regret, anger, arrogance, etc., as we die to traits that are no longer serving us and which are limiting our potential, we give birth to a new and more loving, grateful, humbled self.
2. A practice: yoga is a practice. Like meditation, there isn’t some kind of end goal where you can suddenly say, “I’m there” (though it’s always inspiring to see students finally be able to do certain postures after perhaps hundreds of hours of committed effort!). Even after years of practice, people have shitty days (tis part of the human condition), and all sorts of things can come up. What’s important is that we stick with it and continue to slowly evolve and grow, maintaining a sense of self-acceptance, and ability to laugh at ourselves all the while. I think the quote “be willing to be a beginner every single morning” is a great mantra to live by. For life too, is a practice.
3. A physical practice: yes, yoga can definitely help us develop and maintain healthy bodies. When I first began doing yoga, I was quite depressed, and weighed probably 60 or 70 pounds more than I do now, and it, along with a number of other lifestyle changes, has helped me increase my vitality and become much more healthy. The postures can get our blood flowing, strengthen bones, tone muscles, and provide a wonderful full-body cardio workout. So definitely, it’s a kind of physical exercise. Here’s a great infographic about some of the benefits of yoga practice on the body:
4. A mental practice: calming the mind ain’t no easy task, as most human beings are well aware (I think?). There’s a constant chatter of thoughts, many of which are repetitive, fear-based, self-limiting, negative, etc. When we practice yoga, we strive to quiet/still the mind by focusing on our breath as much as possible throughout the class. And, by finding a sense of peace within often challenging situations during class (“the posture starts when you want to get out of it”), we are building tools to better deal with whatever difficulties may arise off the mat in our day-to-day lives. I really feel that committing even an hour a day truly makes the remaining 23 hours (yes, even sleep!) much more peaceful and joyous, with increased clarity as well.
5. A spiritual practice: in our “busy,” largely ego-driven culture/world, people are increasingly looking to slow down and connect more deeply with their authentic selves, their soul, their core, their essence, whatever you wanna call it. By developing awareness of what’s going on in our bodies and minds during a yoga practice, we really start to get an idea of who we are, and our connectedness to everything around us. Wisdom teachers throughout the ages from every religious and spiritual tradition have repeatedly stressed the need to “know thyself.”
Increasingly, there are more and more research papers (and personal testimonials!) about the life-changing and transformative effects of hatha yoga, and I think this will help convince many skeptics to give it a try. From my own experience, I can attest how some of my friends, especially guys, would make jokes or excuses in order to avoid trying yoga classes a few years back (some of the most common being “I’m too busy,” or, “I’m not flexible”), and I’d sometimes get frustrated at what I perceived to be their “ignorance.” These days I’m less judgmental, and realize that things come to people when they are ready, and that there are as many paths “up the mountain” as there are human beings. What’s important is to have some kind of daily spiritual practice (this could also include one’s significant other), if even for a few short minutes! Rumi, who keeps pestering me with his divine luminous wisdom, puts it as such:
“Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
Is a ring on the door
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
Will eventually open a window
And look out to see who’s there.”
There are so many different ways to practice yoga. Some people prefer solo sessions, others enjoy practicing in community. Some like mirrors in the class, allowing them to gaze deep into their own eyes/Being, while others find them distracting, yet still manage to “look within.” Some love practicing in classes with music, others instead wanna use the time to listen to, and tune, the soundtrack of their minds. Some students swear by room temperature classes, and some like it hot! What’s important is seeing the unity in this diversity.
If you’ve never tried a yoga class before, I highly encourage you to come out and give it a shot. Everyone starts somewhere! You might find that it’s the first step towards a radically transformed and inspired life!!!