• Dom Catto

I thought Yoga was just stretching. What’s all the other stuff about?

When we think about Yoga, we immediately think of the super flexible woman in her Yoga pants contorting to within an inch of her life, smiling serenely and annoyingly, right?

*Cue eye roll* 🙄

Since the physical part of Yoga has become so unbelievably popular in the West without the Eastern philosophy taught with it, it’s quite a surprise to realise that there is so much more to Yoga than just stretching.

The physical part of Yoga, known as Asana, is actually just one teeny element of what Yoga really is. All the different, impressive poses, the stretching and the sweating in a heated room on a fancy Yoga mat are mostly what attracts people to Yoga, BUT it's the “other stuff” that makes them fall in love with it.

Don’t get me wrong, the Asana practice is incredible! It works your whole body, gets you sweating, stretches you in places that hold tension and reintroduces you to muscles you have long since forgotten about. It connects you to using your breath properly, to moving consciously and makes you aware of the present moment. It gives you an hour or two to just be with yourself, with no other thoughts or distractions and the best part is you get to lie down on your back at the end of the class for 10 minutes with beautiful calming music playing and someone rubbing your neck with gorgeous smells. I mean, what’s not to like?

The thing I like most about the Asana practice is getting to know my body so much better. We hold a lot of our past, unresolved “stuff” in our bodies and the physical practice of Yoga helps us to find that stuff, look at it and then let it go if we need to. Asana helps us to really understand our bodies and ourselves and helps us to start to take control of our bodies. Already, we are moving away from Yoga being “just about stretching” and moving towards focusing on the present moment, letting go of unnecessary tension and energy while moving deeper into knowing ourselves better.

The West has taken Yoga to mean the physical practice, but Yoga in itself is an entire philosophy and way of life. The teachings of Yoga cover all aspects of life, of how to live a conscious and present life through kindness, compassion and understanding. Learning in every moment to know yourself better and humanity itself better. Learning to accept and surrender. The physical practice is a spectacular way to build strength and flexibility and to really get to know your body and yourself, but the teachings of Yoga take it much deeper than just the physical. Yoga is a many-layered and intricate set of practices set out thousands of years ago to lead a human being, step-by-step, to live life consciously, compassionately and with full intention. Although these teachings are ancient, the wisdom and lessons are completely applicable, and necessary, to this day and age.

The physical practice is just one element of all the different practices of Yoga. Some people only practise the Asana whilst some, like Mother Theresa, practise Karma Yoga, or like Krishna Das, Bhakti Yoga. The teachings of Yoga have been around for thousands of years and there is a vast amount of information out there about the practices. It’s the student’s job to explore the practices and find elements that suit them. Different styles and types of Yoga will appeal to different people.

Basically, Yoga is a vast set of practices giving you the tools to learn yourself and know yourself better. The word Yoga means Union, to yolk together. It is the yoking together of the individual soul with the Higher Self. Yoga is Union with the Divine. All these teachings and practices, including the physical practice, are designed so that you can become completely happy and content, reaching Enlightenment.

When I started Yoga I only knew about the physical practice and for about 2 years being on my mat, breathing, sweating and getting to know my body was enough for me. But then Google happened and this whole world of Yoga philosophy opened itself up to me. And I was hooked! I found a studio in Johannesburg, Living Yoga, that incorporated the philosophy and spiritual practices into each and every class. Suddenly, I was learning things about Yoga that felt less like a learning and more like a remembering. The kind and compassionate teachings of Yoga resonated with me so deeply. The teachings of Yoga kept redirecting me back to myself. Giving me tools and advice on how to know myself better, how to control my inner world in order to understand the outer world better. I had found my home and that home was inside of me.

Learning Yoga under my dear teachers Cherryl Duncan and Sarah Bentz took me to places I never thought existed. I learned to speak Sanskrit, to play the harmonium, to sing in front of people 😳, to accept myself for who I was. I learned the history of Yoga, I was introduced to Patanjali and his magic teachings, I learned the stories of the deities, I learned to chant and realised how much I love it. I learned the magic of perspective, I learned compassion and non-violence, as well as the incredible importance of being in the present moment because nothing else actually exists. But most importantly, I learned that I am absolutely 100% divine. I am not just a drop in the ocean, I am the entire ocean in one drop. I am so deeply connected to God that I am God. I am consciousness. I am divinity. I am Higher Power. I am the whole universe. The teachings of Yoga taught me this and continue to teach this to me every single day.

Yoga is thousands of years old so there is so much to learn about these ancient, profound teachings. I have been practising Yoga for 15 years and I still haven’t learned everything there is to learn about Yoga but I’m very happy on this path of continual learning. In the last 15 years, Yoga has changed my life completely. I dread to think about who I would be without these incredibly powerful and conscious teachings. I am so grateful to these teaching and to all my teachers along the way that have guided me on this path of Self-Love and Self-Realisation.

Have a look at some of my previous blog posts about Patanjali’s Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Breathing and the rest of the 8 limbed path to Enlightenment. These will shine a bit more light on some of the philosophy of Yoga. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up to our Yoga for Beginners members platform and get all these teachings along with so much more, including a lot of the stretchy stuff. 😉

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