When I started practicing yoga in the early 90’s, yoga was still relatively unheard of and certainly not practiced by many people. I would often get the question: “What is this yoga?” Back then, being new to yoga myself, I didn’t know the answer and so I would often just tell people how it made me feel. I felt better. My neck was better. I slept better. I was happier, less worried about – well everything. My body felt good and full of ease. This to me is what I had experienced on the mat in a hatha yoga practice.
Many years later and thousands of hours of practice I have all those same conclusions and more. Answering the question of what yoga is, is complex, varied and always brings you to another aspect of your relationship with yoga. Ultimately this is what yoga is; an ever-deepening relationship with yourself and the world around you. Your practice holds a desire to know yourself better, to understand how you tick, what your strengths are, your weaknesses – all of it.
What is yoga then? The history books and Sanksrit language would tell you that yoga means ‘a yoking together.’ If you are bringing things together, whether they were already there or not is remembering you have a relationship to the whole. Each part of you has a relationship to the whole.
So you could say that yoga is being present to all aspects of yourself. And not only are you are in a relationship with yourself – all your thoughts, emotions, body parts, but you are also in relationship with the world around you. That means everything else – your friends, your co-workers, your career, your family, your home, the store where you buy groceries, the car you drive, the music you hear, the books you read – virtually everything. So where does yoga end and just plain living begin? You guessed it – there is no line. Your yoga practice can take place during a conversation with your loved one or with someone you have controversy with. It can be practiced while cooking dinner, or taking out the trash. What does hatha yoga teach you? To be present on the mat, to be accountable to all the thoughts, emotions, movements that are YOU. You are still you off the mat. In an argument with someone you may find yourself in that frustrating space of falling out of Vrksasana (Tree pose) or Vasisthasana (Side Plank) for the third time. You try not to be frustrated, but there are times that it happens. What do you do? Get bigger and hold the line. What does that look like in an argument? Seeing another person’s view, while holding your own; making the choice of agreeing to disagree or of changing your own mind.
This is a tad simplistic and in life, just as on the mat, you are contending with a myriad of factors. Your wrist may be sore and it is uncomfortable in Vasisthasana. Your hips may not be open and your foot slips down your leg in Vrksasana. In yoga, as in life there is always a pathway. There is always a place of freedom and stability to be found. Finding it requires fierce practice and skillful navigation through all manner of instability and confinement. But we wouldn’t want it any other way. This is our yoga. This is our pathway through it all; touching it all holding gratitude for this amazing relationship we have with ourself and the world around us.
This week at Good Life Yoga we explore what yoga is for you. We’ll encourage sharing our stories, our triumphs and our tremendous difficulties– and I think we’ll see that our yoga has shifted, just as our lives have shifted. What came first the shifting or the yoga? It’s the age old chicken and the egg scenario. We are sure to carry this theme through to next week, because there is a lot to say about it. It’s life after all. And it’s your life. It’s mine. It’s our relationship to one another – it’s all that and there isn’t more because we’ve included everything already! That’s deep, I know. It’s fun. It’s mysterious. It’s yoga.