What is yoga anyway?
What is the purpose of yoga?
Most people look at yoga as a form of movement however it’s much more than that. Yoga is the practical application of existence theoretical principles. Movement, but slowing down too, lifestyle, an aim of finding the true purpose of life. A form of self-fulfillment.
In my view yoga is about personal growth. If you only practice the physical aspect of yoga then it’s about the physical conversion. Becoming stronger, more flexible an healthier. If you meditate then it’s about becoming more equilibrated and less stressed. The more aspects of yoga you let into your life, the more areas you become better at.
I personally believe that as a “bad” yogi you can still get a lot of good out of yoga. If you won’t practice 6 times a week, you don’t care about its spiritual aspect and you can’ imagine your life without eating meat, I’m still looking forward to meeting you on the mat.
For some, yoga is a lifestyle. By that I don’t mean that they only want to exist wearing comfortable sporting clothes but that it impacts their diet, agenda and how they relate to the people around them. Calm dawn, I won’t throw the whole yoga philosophy on you but let’s set a few things straight.
Beyond the physical practice
Physical practice means the regular practice of yoga poses, the so called asana-s. Western yoga practice primarily focuses on this. You have to be neither strong nor flexible to start. We do yoga to become these.
Among to different types of yoga trends there are slower and less demanding but also some very challenging ones. Most studios display which are the beginner classes but in my experience most hatha, yin yoga or spinal yoga classes are suitable for complete beginners. If you are looking for a challenge or you are somewhat experienced on the mat then the more dynamic vinhasa and ashtanga practices will put you to the test.
Experience! There is a suitable yoga style for everyone, it’s only some people give up the search before finding their path.
Like at any form of movement here too I advise you to lay the foundations with an experienced teacher. I know there are a lot of great videos online but if you learn the movements the wrong way you can get injured. It can be a private or a group class but it’s important you learn the basics with an experienced teacher who’ll make sure your foundation is safe.
Beyond physical practice the ancient yoga scripts mention a behavioral code, the regulation of senses, the mind and breathing and also contain some prohibitons regarding lifestyle. I would like to focus on breathing exercises and meditation.
Breathing in yoga
When I’m asked about the difference in a pose that seemingly exists in the same form in both in yoga and in gymnastics I always reply: it’s the breathing! In yoga the harmony between movement and breathing is key, this central flow is in the centre of attention.
Beside this you learn different breathing exercises called pranayama techniques. They can serve to calm the mind (goodbye zigzagging thoughts!), relieve stress, improve focus, energize but even improvement of physical performance. Prana means breath and vitality at the same time, this is the energy that penetrates the whole universe. Sorry, I forgot to put out the “Warning! Spirituality ahead” sign, but I’m putting it out now. The vitality becoming present in your body through breathing flows through energetic channels and their central point of liaison are the chakras. That means chakras are energetic centres. I’m really humbled by the thought that there is floating vitality that penetrates the universe and connects me to it through breathing. What a nice thought?
Western science acknowledges that the most commonly practiced slow, consistent yoga breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system which means it helps relaxation. As your breathing and heart rhythm slows down hormones are released that increase the feeling of tranquillity and social bonding. So if you are stressed out or mad at someone then breathing exercises can help protect your own nerves and the life of the person causing you stress 🙂
According to tradition practicing asanas, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques together prepare you for meditation. Many experts think that meditation is the most important part of yoga for the modern person. Meditation is a safe haven for your over-stimulated and over-heated mind. It can find a little bit of tranquillity between the lot of to do-s, constant beeping of your phone and other unavoidable elements of 21st century life. You can read here more about its advantages. To sum it up: it helps relieve stress and anxiety, become more focused, sleep better and even become cooler. I encourage you to read the post behind the link.
Meditation has a lot of form, on of the most common ones is focusing your attention on one single thing. This can be breathing, an ember, a mantra or you can even do a tea meditation. As a modern person your mind will wander during meditation and that’s perfectly fine. This morning I returned to focusing on my breath from focusing on “why is my left foot colder than my right foot”. No comments here, but you get what a wanderer the mind is and how difficult it is to control it.
Yoga and religion
In its ancient scripts and tradition yoga has a lot of connection to Hinduism and Buddhism but it is not a religion. It also has physical foundations and traditions which are spiritual.
Can you practice you if you’re not interested in any of that, Yes, you can. In the world of yoga there are different points of view how deep you can experience the benefits of yoga if you want none of its spiritual side.
In brief, you can experience them but maybe some will not think this is the right path. You can move your body through yoga exercise, use relaxation techniques or calm down in a stressful situation with breathing exercises.
Where do I begin then?
Begin with what you are comfortable with. If you are looking for a form of movement for your aching back from sedentary lifestyle then come to the mat for a practice, if you are looking for tranquillity for your over-stimulated mind then come to the mat to relax or meditate or if you are looking for a complete lifestyle change that read vedic literature or the Yoga-sutra.
In my eyes yoga is a path to your real self. Start on it wherever you are now and step closer to yourself.