The practice of yoga has many benefits. Most people will tell you that they felt different after their very first class. If you practice yoga regularly, you can’t help but change.
There is a reason this practice has stood the test of time – some five thousand years! The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. And while it’s integration into the western culture has diluted its essence somewhat, even a halfhearted practice will give you a taste of the profound potential to radically transform your life.
I practice the science of yoga, I am not merely an asana practitioner, I try and live the yamas and niyamas, I have a disciplined pranayama practice, I work to cultivate inner awareness, and I meditate on the Divine, all with the hopes of attaining absorption – Samadhi.
The practice of yoga completely balanced me phsycho-emotionally and as I enter the second half of this life, it has kept my body supple, healthy and balanced. I am not the same person I was before I began walking this path, and everyday I am honored and humbled to be helping others explore the potential of yoga as well.
Anyone who practices experiences the increase in body awareness. Being able to feel parts of the body again, to really connect with the smallest of sensations. Not long after we are born, we are taught to ignore the innate intelligence of our bodies. We are told when to sleep rather than listen to the body and sleep when we need it, we are told to eat, even if our bodies don’t hunger. We are told not to eat when our bodies do hunger. We are directed to keep our emotions in check, ignored or buried and we are taught to numb our aches, pains, and sensations. By the time we are adults, we have lost touch with our bodies. Yoga brings the awareness back.
As you practice yoga you learn acceptance, accept your body without judgment, and to work with its limitations rather than against them.
And we feel a greater depth of gratitude…. gratitude that we have a body, a form in which to experience the sensate world around us.
But there are five things in particular that I believe are the most profound gifts from this practice.
We live in a culture that no longer values being. We are so busy doing, that we have lost connection with ourselves, with others, and with everything around us. Yoga teaches us presence. To truly be in the moment, each and every moment. In a pose, we are asked to focus on just the sensations and energy. We are asked to absorb all of our senses in the breath as we sit on our cushions or lie back on our mats. We are taught to get out of our heads and get back into our hearts. And the mindfulness we learn on our mats translates to mindfulness in everything we do. Listening to a friend, being with a lover, negotiating a contract or settling a dispute. We are completely present in that moment and giving someone our complete attention is an act of love, there is no greater gift
When we first encounter our body in a pose, we are met with resistance, rigidity, tension, and years of neglect. It is a body that has forgotten how to relax, a body taught bad postural habits. As we attempt to stretch away these things, our bodies will grip with a protective reflex in an attempt to maintain the status quo. And it will stay where it knows if we rush through the process, if we give in to the resistance. But we are taught to breathe with a neutral mind and wait. We ask, will, invite the body to let go of what no longer serves us. And eventually it does, and our bodies become graceful and flexible. And then we find that (w)holistically we become more graceful and flexible. We become more patient with the world around us.
For me, as a former athlete, the physical practice didn’t challenge me as much as the mental practice, but I was amazed by the integrated strength I developed. Yoga makes bodies overall more balanced in its expression of power, there is a stability that develops that can only be described as grounded. I often remind my students that if there is hardness in the body, there is hardness in the mind; if there is weakness in the body, there is weakness in the mind. As our bodies become stronger, so too does our concentration and focus. Our minds become stronger, our emotions become more stable. We become more grounded
Our culture teaches us to strive, dominate, and acquire. We are conditioned to believe force is a sign of power and to meet resistance with even stronger resistance. That lifetime of struggle is creating a society of aggression and stress. Yoga teaches us to release our holding patterns and our forceful nature so that in a pose we can relax the muscles and go deeper or so in meditation our minds can soften. Surrender isn’t about giving up or giving in, it’s about letting go. There is inherent peace in the act of surrender. And if we are a microcosm in the macrocosm, our act of surrender can affect the greater whole.
When we begin practicing yoga, we are focused on the movement of the body, the flow of the breath. Eventually, we are directed to focus on the stillness between the movements or the pauses between the breaths. As our practice deepens, and thus we mature, we connect with the stillness even within the movement and we become stillness itself.
These are life long gifts.