WHAT IS YOGA?
That is a big question, one you can answer by turning to the ancient texts, to health magazines, to lifestyle magazines. The answer will be different each time because yoga has evolved so much in the last few decades by becoming widespread throughout the world. There are so many styles, names and reasons to practice that it can blur the lines of what yoga is and make it difficult to figure out what it means for each and every one of us.
I believe it is important not only to remember the origins of yoga and what purpose(s) it was developed for, but also to ask yourself why you practise because if it is to become a regular feature of your life, you have to know and feel what you seek from it. That helps stick to the practice.
To me yoga is a practice of learning about my Self, in order to transform what can be changed into something more beneficial, to accept what cannot be changed and to understand who I truly am beyond all the external expectations and injunctions we all encounter. Yoga is a toolbox that gives me varied tools to do that.
Some of them are physically dynamic so I can release tensions and aches that my body experiences, heal injuries. Some of them are not physically dynamic and work with the nervous system, the mind and the emotions in a much more direct way. Some of them are more esoteric, working with energies within our outside of us. Yoga is a vast and rich field developed to help beings on a path of realisation of our deeper nature, that which exists beyond any identitarian belonging of job, name, family, country, abilities… Yoga helps us see the forest from the trees in our own mental landscape, to learn to be more patient and kind to what needs time to shift, if shift it can.
The way it works for me is that when I practise, whatever style and practice, it creates the condition for my awareness to focus on a specific aspect of me, in my body or my thoughts or my feelings, often all three at once. It makes me look at it, feel it with nowhere else to go, and the guarantee that I am doing it safely thanks to a method. Then I can bring the breath into that aspect of me, create space and clarity around what is really going on. Is my hip really tight or am I holding unnecessary tension? Can I really not do this pose or am I fearful of the unknown if I have never done it before? If I have, then am I fearful because I have fallen out of it and felt I failed?
Sure, regular yoga posture practice (asana practice) gives you physical flexibility and strength, it can also relieve chronic pains and help recovery. But most importantly for me it helps me deal with the challenges of being a human being, firstly by allowing me to get to know the particular human that I am, and then to give it tools to find balance in the middle of all the push and pulls that I and the world impose on me. It helps me explore and sometimes push boundaries.
Take forearm stands or handstands. They used to be something I thought beyond my reach, because I lacked strength in body and mind. I had tremendous amounts of fear around going upside down, not trusting I could catch and hold myself up. It was as much about physically doing it, as about being able to hold myself in the world on my own two hands. It highlighted my struggles around being capable to carve a life for myself out of my own strength, turn things upside down to change perspective and take chances.
Practising postures that would develop the strength, balances, awareness was key to helping me get there, as well as recognising what was beyond the physical experience of experiencing such inversions. Doing them with patience, curiosity and a sense of play has helped me observe how I relate to taking risks and trusting myself to be strong enough to deal with them, and pick myself up when I fall.
For me the practice, the postures, are there to help us prepare ourselves safely and with skill to face challenges that we all must encounter as humans. The practice helps us dust and uncover our fears, our potential, our joys. It is a process of transformation. Sometimes it is tough and sometimes it is glorious, fun and blissful.