With millions of people down-dogging it across the country, yoga has become a multibillion-dollar industry. But just because you’re doing yoga poses doesn’t mean you’re doing yoga. I think this concept is getting lost in many yoga classes, especially those offered at gyms and health clubs. As a teacher, I see lots of students struggling with the poses. They look sideways to see what’s happening on the mat next to them. They go for the burn, strive to look good in the poses. But none of this is actually yoga.
Yoga means union of the body, mind, and spirit on one level and on another, union with the Infinite, the Universe, God. Asana, which is what all of the poses are called, means posture. So we’re not exercising. Not really. By doing the yoga poses we are trying to consciously experience the unity of body, mind, and spirit and the oneness of the Universe. This is true regardless of whether you’re doing something physically challenging or not. It may look like just exercise to the guy peering in the window but at its core it’s spiritually purposeful. It’s peace. It’s an experience of who you really are. And it’s transformative.
The different poses allow us to practice compassion and acceptance (of our limits), to cultivate balance, strength, and patience and to become more flexible as people. And the poses allow us to practice choosing peace. After all, if you can’t do the poses without becoming tense and tight and stressed, how do you expect to navigate your life with more ease? If it’s all push and struggle and strain on the mat, don’t be surprised if that’s what you’re getting off the mat too.
This is maybe the most important point I’d like to pass onto my students. The only true peace is inner peace. It’s like happiness—the only real kind is inside you. It doesn’t come from another person or a car or a pair of shoes. Same thing with peace.
So the next time you step on the mat try to experience your yoga, really feel it, instead of thinking about it, or competing with yourself or the person next to you. Set aside preconceived notions of how it should be done or what you did last week. Set aside judgment. Instead of thinking about what you should be doing, what you think you want to do, what you think is advanced, what you think looks good, or what you think feels good, try to do what actually feels good.
Practice choosing peace. Practice with compassion, open your heart, be joyful and grateful. Let go of pain and struggle in the poses and embrace the stillness and comfort of peace. Try it. Be open to the possibility that it doesn’t have to be so hard. On your mat or in your life.
If you open yourself up to this possibility, over time your practice (and you’re your life) really will become more fun, easier, more enjoyable—and more appropriate for what your body, mind, and spirit really need. Namaste!
Next up: Starting a home yoga practice.