It’s very trendy to practice yoga these days. Like being “green”, it seems everywhere you turn, someone is selling yoga. There are clothing lines hocking $80 yoga tank tops, websites offering props, books, and DVDs of the “latest” yoga style, and even discount department stores featuring their own lines of yoga materials. Celebrities with long, lithe bodies rave about their yoga mastery and classes are offered everywhere from local gyms and mom’s groups to high-end yoga studios. So it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Who doesn’t want to be strong, flexible, and relaxed, right?
But the truth of the matter is that the practice of yoga is much deeper than these physical manifestations that have garnered such popularity. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning work, coordination, and integration. Put those together and yoga is defined as “union”: A union between the individual and the universe, a union between rooting down and growing taller, a union of our dark and our light.
About 4000 years ago, Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras, the definitive yogic text. He defined yoga as “Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah” or “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. In other words, the practice of yoga was not designed to help you stand on your head, touch the floor, or twist up like a human pretzel. The purpose of yoga is to settle your mind and stop the self-talk and chatter that prevent us from being present for our lives. And doesn’t that awareness sound better than having nice biceps?
Granted, the physical movements (called asanas) in a yoga practice are designed to work your body – creating within you a union of strength and flexibility. These movements, when combined with breathing practices (pranayam), and meditation make up Hatha Yoga. And within Hatha Yoga you can find dozens of variations (Bikram, Iyengar, Anusara, Triyoga, Pwer, Viniyoga, Kripalu, etc). Yoga provides a fantastic work-out. You use muscles you didn’t even know you had. A regular practice builds strength, promotes flexibility, improves balance and coordination and posture, and is excellent for lung health. Yoga programs can even be tailored for specific conditions (asthma, liver disorders, cancer, PMS, etc). And best of all, rather than feeling tired and beat-up after exercise, you are likely to feel a quiet energy after even the most rigorous yoga practice.
Yoga is for everybody regardless of age, physical condition or religion. The only equipment you may need is a sticky mat (widely available, fairly inexpensive, and often available for use at the gym or studio you attend). And the only requirement during a yoga practice is that you breathe. No worrying about to-do lists. No rehashing your day. No thinking about what to make for dinner. You only breathe, and if movement feels good, then start moving. I like to think there is a little yogi inside each of us, letting us know what our body needs. So tap into your inner-self and try yoga. Not because it is cool to do yoga, but because it can profoundly change your life – from your mental state and physical appearance, to your diet and daily habits.
Every yoga class ends with the word “Namaste” which means the light and divine in me bows to the light and divine in you. Namaste.