What is a Yoga Practice?
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
When you say to me “I really want to get into yoga” What is it exactly you want to ‘get into’?
In a lot of my classes you’ll often hear me ask you to reflect on why it is you practice Yoga. For each of us that reason can be totally different.
Before we even actually start flowing, moving and bending, I’ll ask you to tune into your awareness of your body, to send that attention internally and focus then on where the breath is moving and what the mind is doing.
Why? Because Yoga isn’t just physical exercise. Sure! In some of our classes together we sweat buckets and stretch into new lengths that perhaps you didn’t think were possible. And that is great! I’m all about being fit, healthy and active and progressing physically. However, a well rounded Yoga Practice is so much more than the asanas (physical yoga postures).
This week i’ve found myself defending yoga to a lot of individuals (whom have never even tried yoga) who say to me “Yeah but yoga isn’t even hard. You’re just stretching. You don’t even break a sweat. That’s why men don’t do it because it’s not hard” To that I say “Well thank you for your input, but in fact it is hard. Some styles of yoga are are very physically hard and you do sweat…holy moly do you sweat”
In this response of defence I notice that I myself relate Yoga simply to the physical. I have to stop and remind myself that that’s not all! It’s not just about the headstand or the 6pack abs or the hyper-flexible hamstrings- those things are great but they are simply external. And when you achieve those things what else is there after? What keeps you going on this journey of a yoga practice?
Traditionally, there are 8 Limbs or parts that make up a Yoga Practice.
1. Yamas- Ethical and behavioural standards. 2. Niyamas- Self-discipline and spiritual observances. 3. Asana- the postures practiced (the physical) 4. Pranayama- breath control and techniques 5. Pratyahara- sensory withdrawal or transcendence. Relieving yourself from outside stimuli and taking a step back to observe habits or cravings. 6. Dharana- once you’ve stopped outside distractions you now start to focus on the workings of the mind. Essentially concentration on one thing like a mantra, a sound or vibration, your breath, visualisation techniques etc etc. 7. Dhyana- Meditation or an uninterrupted flow of concentration. The mind produces no or very few thoughts/distractions. This takes a loooooot of practice. 8. Samadhi- a state of enlightenment or pure and profound ecstasy.
So out of those 8 limbs the physical is only mentioned ONCE! Yet if we take a look at what the western world does with yoga on a platform like Instagram, it’s mostly insanely intricate or difficult Asanas performed in an exotic location. It’s all physical. And I am aware that I’m guilty of this too, I think anyone with an instagram is guilty of this! But what is seldom mentioned is all the other stuff that comes with a Yoga Practice.
In my experience, (personal and teaching) people come to Yoga seeking something more, and in this day and age most commonly we’re seeking something to help us cope with the anxieties that a modern world thrusts upon us. People seek peace, purpose, community, enlightenment- something more.
So why do I teach mostly asana? Because that’s the demand. But mostly because whether you’re open to it or not, Yoga has a sneaky way of opening channels for you to delve deeper into when you are ready for it. Yoga will teach you to observe, it will teach you discipline, it will teach you to have patience in the process rather than to get frustrated and give up! Yoga will teach you to breathe properly and find connection between mind, body and breath. And all of that can be transferred to our lives off the mat.
When you come out of the most important asana of all, Savasana, thats the sweet spot. How you feel emotionally, mentally even spiritually, thats the lightbulb moment as to why you practice. Observe it in our next class, and your reason as to why you practice yoga might surprise you.
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” – Yoga Sutra 1.2