What does Yoga mean to you?
16 years ago when I first stepped onto a Yoga mat my whole world and life changed in an instant. The physical practice of Yoga resonated so deeply with me and got me 1000% hooked. As soon as I stood on a Yoga mat for the first time, I knew this was exactly where I was supposed to be and knew that this was the path my life would follow. I did all I could to focus my life on Yoga. My very first teacher focused much on the asana practice as well as pranayama and meditation but I had a deep knowing that there was more to it. So, on her instruction, I started to research and look into Patanjali’s 8 limbed path to enlightenment and once again Yoga blew my mind.
The more I learned about the philosophy, history and spirituality of Yoga, the more I fell in love with it and started to understand that Yoga is so much more than just doing pretty poses. It is in actual fact an every breath, every thought, every moment practice. It is an all-encompassing lifestyle and way of life. The more popular Yoga has become over the years and the more interwoven it has become with social media, the more the message of what Yoga truly is has become diluted. Online, Yoga is a practice reserved for skinny white women who can put their legs behind their heads in almost non-existent Lululemon clothing. If Patanjali and the teachers of old had to see this, they would be horrified that this sacred and honourable practice has been bastardised beyond recognition.
(My teacher's Gurus: Sri K Pattabhi Jois, Swami Nirmalananda, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati.)
To me, Yoga means learning, understanding and opening my mind each and every day to my own self and to human nature. It’s understanding that through kindness, compassion and unconditional Love we can change our perspectives, the way we see things and our own lives. Yoga is using the ancient (yet still very relevant) scriptures and teachings to be a better person to oneself and to all beings, it’s seeing every other being that crosses your path as a divine teacher. Yoga is understanding that we are all intimately and intricately connected to each other, so much so that if one is suffering, we are all suffering and dedicating ones life to easing that suffering of all beings. Yoga is learning and knowing that we are all absolute divinity and universal energy made manifest to experience this reality at this time and to contribute to the happiness and freedom of all beings. You see, very little of this has to do with getting into a handstand or showing off a Yoga bum.
The asana portion of the Yoga practice is a very important part but not for the reasons you’d think. It’s important to get to know your own body deeply and intimately, to go through the poses, to push yourself beyond your physical comfort zone. It’s important to explore into your body using your breath and connection to the present moment. It’s important to use your breath and intention to address and process past unresolved energies and stress that are stored-up in your body and release that tension that no longer serves you. It’s important to move your body, increase your heart rate, to get all your systems twisting and bending to stimulate your body, your nervous system and the other systems. It’s important to breathe deeply while you’re doing this. Focusing on a higher intention. Again, none of this has anything to do with perfecting the most difficult poses or being the “best” at eke-pada-raja-kapotasana.
This is where we in the west have gotten it all wrong. We’ve taken the bits that look good and chucked away the difficult self-work of what Yoga truly is. We’ve put the focus on the physical when Yoga is in fact a spiritual practice. We think we are doing Yoga when we’re actually just attending stretch classes. And in doing this we have lost the power and the connection to what Yoga truly is. We have dismissed the teachings of Asian and India teachers because they don’t have enough followers on Instagram. We have stolen these teachings, whitewashed them and then have made them unaffordable to the people we took them from.
We all know that Yoga means “union” but union of what? Yoga is the yoking together of the individual soul with the Universal source energy. It is not the union of body and mind or the union of body and breath. It is the remembering of one’s own divinity and holiness, and if you are not learning the spirituality along with the physical then I’m afraid, you are learning stretching and not true Yoga.
The practices of Yoga have saved my life, on numerous occasions. The teachings, the spirituality, the meditation, the introspection, the breathing and the physical practice. ALL of them together have walked with me down this path of my life, supporting me, holding me and uplifting me. Sharing these teachings has transformed my life and my heart on a daily basis. To me teaching and practising Yoga IS my whole life, it is not something I can separate. My every thought, word and action are encompassed and directed by the teachings of Yoga. I would not be the person I am right now without these teachings. Yoga is my chosen way of life and these teaching and practices have dictated the way I live my life for the past 16 years. Who I am and how I choose to live is intricately and inescapably linked to the teachings of Yoga, and it is my deep commitment to teach this way of life to anyone and everyone who is looking for it.
What does Yoga mean to you? I invite you to join me this week in our Vula Yoga Self-Love Circle to explore what Yoga means to us. On Monday, we will be engaging in a Collaborative Conversation about what Yoga means to each of us, on Wednesday we will be practicing using asana, intention and breath and on Thursday we'll explore deeper with Meditation to connect to our true selves. Click here to join.
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