10.29.2010

Why Yoga?

Have you ever been sweating and twisted on your mat, ready to throw in the lavender-scented towel and thought to yourself:  This is insane.  What am I doing here?  It can be useful to explore our reasons for returning to this practice so that, in these moments of doubt, we have an answer at the ready to put those thoughts at rest.   Often, I like to begin my classes by establishing a physical foundation upon which to build the practice: we set the feet, engage the legs, extend the spine, and expand from our center, and we utilize these actions throughout the practice to keep us safe and grounded.  Likewise, establishing a philosophical foundation for our practice, developing a stronger understanding of why, on a personal level, we choose to do yoga, can be in important step in laying the groundwork for a deeper experience, preparing us for new growth.

So, back to the question:  why yoga?  First, I'd like to make clear that I am not of the opinion that everyone needs yoga.  I do not feel like it's my job to corral as  many people as possible onto their mats for the sake of the greater good.  The elements of yoga that are most valuable, the healing and focus, can be just as present in other activities.  This is probably why some people like to say that chocolate is yoga, or nature walks or rock climbing are yoga.  It's easy to see how these activities, among others, could serve to bring one into his or her body and still the mind.  Yoga is just another avenue toward realization of the self.  There are many.

Yoga is a life practice.  Through asana and pranayama, we bring about sensations in the body so that we may learn to breath and soften into the resistance we face in life.  We utilize the body as a source of truth; sensations which arise in the body during asana practice are real and true, as true as anything we can know in this world.  By observing these sensations without judgement, we may experience truth more fully.  Through meditation, we learn to remain grounded and centered, which is especially important living in a culture in which we are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages.  Taking the time to quiet the mind, for even a few minutes a day, cutting off these influences, can give us a sense of who we are and what is really important to us, truths which tend to be smothered in blaring media and fanciful expectation.

Through the practice of yoga, we work to overcome our need to analyze and categorize everyone and everything in life.  We become the quiet observer, receptive to the truths available to us within.  We begin to reconcile the apparent contradictions inherent in ourselves that cause us discomfort, and discover that perhaps what we perceived to be contradictions are not all that contradictory after all.  Walt Whitman understood this when he wrote my favorite poem, Song of Myself, proclaiming, "Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes."

It is through this practice that we learn the terribly difficult skill of expressing compassion toward oneself, and as a result, are able to turn that compassion outward and offer it to the world.  When we reflect honestly, as the practice calls us to do, and let go of past regret or future anxiety, we make space for peace in the present moment.  So we do yoga because it is from this quiet place, grounded in simple truth, that we can begin to establish a philosophical foundation upon which to build our reality.  Eventually, we learn to tear down the barriers of duality and see the inherent unity of life.  We begin to recognize the self reflected in all things and all things reflected in the self, perhaps catching a precious glimpse of our own infinite nature.

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