When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
It was 2006 when I discovered yoga. I’d been exposed years before through intimidating contortionist poses in magazines, but I experienced it firsthand in May of 2006. That said, I’m still a student and less than qualified to distill a lesson in Yoga 101. I mean, just look at the assortment of styles from which to learn: Anusara, Ashtanga, Bikram, Integral, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Kundalini, Power, Sivananda, Vinyasa and Yoga Therapy. So, this article is more about what yoga does.
I, as guinea pig, and countless others can attest, it does something inexplicable to those who practice it. I’ve never loved my body so sweetly or been more open to possibilities than before regularly practicing.
Full disclosure: I’m an active person! Hiking, cycling, boxing, basketball, swimming, weight training—I dabble in it all. Oh, but yoga… There’s nothing like it. And this article is dedicated to our love affair.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is what you make it. It’s moving meditation. It’s a journey inward. If yoga had a tagline, it’d read, ‘Draws in mind and body for insight and growth.’ Shiva Rea (founder of Vinyasa) says,
Yoga is the path of unification and a living, dynamic state of unified consciousness. Like the understanding of the unified field within physics, a vibrating field of consciousness that extends through all the diversity of creation. It’s both our essence and the way to remember our essence.
Because yoga brings us to the simplest part of ourselves, our truest physical form, and exposes our thought patterns, it has the power to cause conscious evolution. Reminding us who we are, where we’ve come from and returning us to that source.
On the other side of that reminder is a more compassionate sensibility, humbled perspective and expanded awareness. Anywhere you practice yoga is sacred because you are in a space to get to know yourself better. Extending to yourself patience, attention, care, kindness and tenderness prepares you to offer it to others.
Yoga is a chance to unlearn all the stories you told yourself about what you can’t do and come into knowing you can. You get a sense that anything is possible observing your body perform. Awaken fluidity, grace, sustainability and the joy of being alive. Ah, the mighty stance of Warrior II. Purposeful movement centers and empowers us.
With our attention turned to what we are physically able to do on our mats, regardless of anyone else in the room or the given instruction, our self-imposed limitations are revealed and we begin to actively work on ourselves, inside and out. The body leads us through an exploration of our minds—where we let the body go and where we tell it to stop. The postures steer our thoughts inward.
We practice breathing through challenges: tension, tightness or difficulty. That breath, the action and its sound, sends us into a meditative state. Our minds rest from its usual chaos and say yes to the body’s capabilities and opportunities.
Yoga is Possibility
Let’s come back down for a minute and really bring yoga into focus. Fundamentally, yoga is a sport, an exercise. If practiced as intended by its authors, it oxygenates the blood, massages the organs, limbers the body and calms the mind. It connects right- and left-brain hemispheres. It teaches alignment and proper anatomical balance—restoring equilibrium like a chiropractic session.
The sequencing of the poses first warms the muscles, readies the body for opening, toning and strengthening, then relaxes the body to close. As primitive an exercise as yoga is, it can be a powerful source of strength as you advance.
In general, yoga is defined by its flow of movement, or asanas, and use of breath, or pranayama. The various styles of yoga have different origins and meanings but they share the same purpose: to help us move deeper within. Shivasana, the final resting pose in Vinyasa, is the most important pose.
It is when you relax, letting the exertion fall away and the body absorb the energy and benefits of the preceding movements. It is well-deserved stillness, meditation, before returning to your day off the mat.
Yoga is enriching, rejuvenating movement. Moving with intention, serenity and poise cultivates vitality in body and mind. At first, the physical benefits (i.e. endorphins, strength) are the most attractive and addictive, but the intangible perks will follow as inherent to the practice.
Your practice opens doorways to shifting paradigms, belief systems and enlightenment because you’re witnessing your altered mindset affect your biochemistry. You’re telling your body something new, thus seeing new action and feeling new emotion (notably one of gratitude). Shiva Rea teaches that,
Yoga is designed to awaken our inherent divine energy; practitioners bring awareness to different parts of body and then through mantra and visualization, awaken inner pathways for shakti (divine force) to flow through entire fields of their being. As we bring Vinyasa to bear throughout our lives, we open similar pathways of transformation inner and outer breath by breath. Honor each movement and your ability; be gentle with yourself.
You want it to feel good. Not every pose will feel good at first, but we strive to make it so. Only reach for what feels good because it’s about what it feels like, not what it looks like. Assess yourself before and after the session, and you’ll feel a rewarding difference. The results get you hooked! And so continues your journey.
Yoga is a Journey
Yoga is action, and therefore a way of life. A beautiful unfolding of life. Through it, you experience unity, growth, and transformation.
Yoga is a verb meaning to unify. It literally translates to ‘yoke’, or join. Shiva Rea suggests we “embody the flow” of yoga. We are one with our movement and our movement’s potential. Each body part moves in unison, doing its share of the work, supporting the full expression of the pose, creating synchronous stability.
The deeper we tap into ourselves, the more authentically us we become. That authenticity promotes a oneness with others. Yoga emerged from spiritual tradition and the belief that we are all one. And experiencing achievement without competition unites you with your neighbor.
It’s impossible not to grow stronger, more toned, more aware of your body after a few sessions of yoga. But the awareness doesn’t stop there. Your thoughts need your attention, too. Whatever you tell yourself will be your experience. Whatever you repeat in your mind will manifest in your body.
Know your yoga practice (although we can always improve to protect joints and limbs) is perfect just the way it is where you are right now—just as you are perfect as you are now. Progress comes from acknowledging that where you start is as beautiful as the growth that follows. From our continued dedication, we grow. You determine your level of commitment, no one else, thereby having a direct hand in how great yoga impacts you. And impacts life around you.
Yoga is a gradual enlightening, an internal growth. The journey renews body and mind. Observe your metamorphosis from a tightly-wound, worry-prone headcase to a magnificent and free-flowing being. You’ll come to find that you are able to change your life by changing your thoughts. How you see something is truth for you. Perception is reality. So mold your experience into what you want it to be. Isolate limiting beliefs and let them go. Emerge transformed. Mark Whitehal, yogi, says,
You just need body and breath to do yoga. It is an interior process, a kind of prayer. You spend time consciously breathing into your body and experiencing an intimate relationship with all that is you. The manifestation of extreme intelligence. Yoga is intimate participation in the given reality. [It] is the embrace of ordinary reality [and] the celebration of intimacy.
I got into yoga for the holistic benefits and stayed because I am learning to master my thoughts. It’s very gratifying. I encourage you to do 7-10 minutes a day of comfortable flow. No need to become obsessive. But see where the commitment takes you. Open yourself up the possibilities and the journey.
If you haven’t experienced yoga, get out there and take a class! And before you do, click here to download the free Beginner’s Guide to Yoga to help you prepare.