Well, most obviously, it’s a fantastic form of fitness, with countless benefits. And no, it’s not just gentle stretching, the allusion under which some people find themselves. Yes, stretching is a big part of it, but it’s got so much more to offer if you’re willing to look. There’s a plethora of postures and flows requiring unbelievable levels of strength and balance (just check out my Instagram to see but a few I’ve managed to accomplish so far). As someone into fitness and being active I was initially drawn to the physical practice of the asanas (postures) and was surprised how challenging some things that appeared so seemingly simple actually turned out to be.
It actually took me a while to realise how much more yoga is than just the physical practice of moving ones body into a number of postures; and it was this revelation that really made me fall in love with it. The word ‘yoga’ is Sanskrit, with the literal translation ‘to add/join/unite/attach’. But its most apt meaning to me is ‘union’; the union of body, mind, and breath. I often describe yoga to people as ‘breathing with movement’, as I believe that if you’re neglecting the breathing aspect of the practice then you’re really missing the point, and it becomes a workout rather than yoga.
I no longer see it as exercise – that’s just a byproduct now (a very handy one though, nonetheless). To me it’s about self-mastery – union of self, physically and mentally. It’s a never-ending journey of discovery – about who you are, who you want to be, and how to get there. The focus may be on the movement and breathing, but the intention is beyond the physical and into the mental, and for some even spiritual. Each practice is a meditation, using the focus of body and breath in an attempt to discover and master the mind. Whatever is going on in my life, whether I’m annoyed, happy, sad, run-down, etc, the practice offers me the opportunity to escape the world and find my focus. But it’s also then taking this practice off the mat and applying it to your everyday life – yoga isn’t confined to the parameters of the mat you’re on or the space in which you practice.
Ok, to some it might sound like I’m possibly taking it a bit too seriously, but here’s a little example to help you see where I’m coming from: try and balance on one leg…now, whilst on that one leg, pat your head with one hand and rub your belly with the other…and if that’s too easy then try it with your eyes closed. Not necessarily as easy as it might sound. Chances are a lot of you will lose your balance at some stage of that sequence. But how did you react? Did you get annoyed with yourself for not being able to do it, or did you just laugh it off and let it go? Which of those two people would you prefer to be? Take it up a notch: you’re in a situation where it’s easy to get annoyed – perhaps you’re out driving and someone thoughtlessly cuts you up. Do you get a little/a lot of that dreaded road-rage, or are you able to stay calm, deal with it, and let it go. My point is, if you can learn to master yourself, your emotions, and your reactions on the mat, then you can endeavor to take that mindset with you off of it. I’ve definitely been guilty of being the first person, and sometimes still am, but through my practice I’ve become a lot more mindful, and am more often than not the latter these days, making for a much happier me.
As well as union of self, it’s the opportunity to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by so many amazing people. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most fantastic beings on my journey so far, and they are a huge part of why I practice. Their positivity, chilledness, and happiness constantly encourage me to be a better, happier person not only for myself, but for those I know and meet as well.
I’d encourage anyone to try yoga, as I truly believe it has something to offer everyone. And the great thing about it is that anyone can do it – it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, how strong or flexible you might be, or how deep you want to take the yoga concept, it will benefit you in some way. I’ve had friends of mine say that they’re “too inflexible to try yoga” – don’t be ridiculous! That’s like saying “I’m too thirsty to drink that refreshing glass of water”. There are no prerequisites for ability if you want to try it – just leave ego and self-consciousness at the door – everyone else in a class is so focused on their own practice they’re not paying any attention to what you may or may not be able to do, so don’t worry. Embrace what it has to offer, and drink in the goodness.
As someone who is trying to encourage people to move, in a society where it’s seen more as a chore than a gift, I’d suggest yoga as it’s so easy to get involved – all you need is you, and maybe a mat or towel (though most places provide these for you anyway). And there is so much out there to try! I’ve had people say to me they’ve tried a class and thought it just wasn’t for them. That’s fair enough, but all I’d say is not to let one bad (or just not good) experience taint the whole idea of it for you; yoga is like music – if you listen to one song you don’t like you don’t let that turn you off the whole concept of music. Give another style, teacher, studio, mindset a second or third chance, you never know what you might discover.
Yoga may be physically demanding, and have all those serious and deep aspects, but most of all for me it’s the opportunity to play. So whatever you do, just remember to try and keep a smile on your face, an openness in your mind, and just have fun!