B.K.S. Iyengar, Light On Yoga
Yoga has come to mean (and likely has always meant) many different things to different people. There are as many yoga practices as there are people on this planet. There is absolutely not one “right” way to practice or one “best” lineage to follow. If a teacher tells you that, run!
It’s not about becoming a bendy pretzel.
What then? Unfortunately (or fortunately) there’s not a straight answer here. Yoga is a personal journey.
What’s the point of yoga (for you)?
Perhaps a better question would be what’s the point of yoga for you? Maybe you’re feeling stressed and anxious and would like some relief, or your body is feeling tired and sluggish and you’re open to try something different, or you would like to touch your toes because that would be kind of cool.
What starts a yoga practice will likely be completely different than what keeps you coming back to your mat day after day, year after year.
Because the one thing that’s certain in this life is change. And yoga is a way for us to deal with and accept change.
“Yoga is a way of life; it is an art, a science, a philosophy.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
Ok back to pretzels. Why such emphasis on physical postures in yoga?
This emphasis comes largely from the westernization of yoga. In the west yoga has become about fitness (and now fashion), but that is not the point of yoga.
One of the reasons the body is so important in yoga because it is the container for breath, and breath is the bridge between body, mind and consciousness.
Let’s imagine – you just ate a giant meal. You feel so full to the point of discomfort. You’re super sleepy, maybe even laying down to help the food digest. Been there? What were you thinking about? Maybe about how incredibly full you are, maybe thoughts of regret for taking those last bites, or perhaps savoring the delicious meal and waiting in anticipation to be hungry again! Either way, odds are you were very much in your physical self, your body and mind full of sensations. When the body is unsettled the mind is unsettled. It’s hard to focus on anything else.
When on the other hand our body feels light and clean (note: this has nothing to do with physical size!) — we tend to breathe more fully, our energy flows, our mind is calmer, and it becomes far easier to be with oneself in stillness.
Holding a pretzel shape may sound silly. But it’s at the edge of discomfort when we want to get out, yet we stay and we breathe, that we begin to discover who we are. What we’re capable of when our fear-driven panic mind begins to take over and yet we find the strength to quiet it with our will.
Ultimately the shape is not important at all. What is important is being able to stay with ourselves in stillness, with awareness. To allow, to appreciate, to just BE.
And when one day we do touch our toes or stay in a pose that before we thought was impossible, our definition of self shifts, it expands.
On the journey of our expansion, who’s doing the quieting? Our stressed body, our panicked mind, something else?
Living in these questions is the practice of yoga.
We move our body to prepare for stillness. So we can connect with what’s beyond the fluctuations of the mind. In order to learn to be in this very moment, in the timeless here and now, no matter what’s happening.
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