What is yoga?

meditating stick figure

I was just in the process of writing this very formal and boring description of yoga when I realized that you can find that anywhere. So I stopped. You’re welcome.

I’m going to tell you what yoga means to me and how I started doing yoga and maybe you will have a sudden revelation -“I need to run out and do yoga now!” Or you may decide, “This woman is self-centered in thinking that I care about why she does yoga.” So if you are with the latter category, then I apologize, please read no further. If you are part of the former category then let’s begin.

I began taking random yoga classes around the year 2000. Some friends from college practiced and I felt guilty about my sedentary sugar-eating ways so I thought I would try it. At that time it did not really stick with me, partially because I was in graduate school and moved around a lot.

When life settled with a full-time job and a stable place to live I decided to go to the yoga studio down the street because 1. I realized my legs looked exactly the same from ankle to ass… meaning I had zero muscle 2. the studio was close by 3. the class fit in my schedule after work. I had no idea that different types of yoga existed. But I was fortunate because the yoga studio was an Iyengar studio and that is exactly what I needed.

[So just a brief note to say that BKS Iyengar wrote an amazing book, Light on Yoga, which is a classic in which you can see photographs of his amazing flexibility, and wherein he provides instruction for yoga poses or asanas. Mr. Iyengar is also given the credit for introducing yoga to the West. He, Guruji as his students call him, worked tirelessly his entire life to bring yoga to the masses. He introduced props and refined the practice to make it efficient, exacting, and accessible.]

I was exceptionally weak, had rounded shoulders from poor posture, flat feet which created an excessive curve in my lower lumbar spine causing back pain, and a mind that chattered ceaselessly. Simply sitting with crossed legs in the beginning of class was a challenge. But the entire hour and half I was in that classroom, I thought of nothing else except how to move my body. Mentally I was relieved to have focus and physically I gained strength and flexibility. Each time I walked out of that class I felt incredible. I had a small amount of natural flexibility, but yoga did come easy which is partially why I think it made such an impact. Best money I ever spent. Now that I have no money I can practice daily on my own and keep my sanity.

I’ve seen yoga referred to as a discipline. But I see it as a habit. Once you cultivate it you cannot live without it. Yoga is also not a religion but a way to harness the best parts of yourself. On the mat you learn to be calm in the most difficult and painful (in a good way) postures. You learn how your mind controls your body and the more you learn about yourself the better you can make decisions for yourself and by extension, everyone around you.

Iyengar was right for me at that time because I needed something slow and exacting to keep my mind engaged and the props made it possible for me to succeed at creating the postures. I imagine that if my first class has been a power yoga class, I would never have persisted. I was too weak, mentally and physically to push through.

For me, yoga has been a pathway to fitness of both mind and body. It has not cured me of anxiety, but it has helped me understand and work with it. Physically, well, I can now tell the difference between my ankle and my ass thank you very much and it’s looking pretty nice.

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