He was a man in his early 60’s who earnestly asked the question. “What is yoga?”
I was doing a presentation for a large accounting firm in Philadelphia. At first, I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but I answered the question as best as I could. After the presentation, we talked further and in fact, he did know what yoga was. His daughter is a very committed yogi. His real question was “What’s all the hoopla about yoga? Why would I try it?”
These days it seems yoga is everywhere. Or at least the images of yoga are everywhere. They are misleading and often a disservice to people who practice yoga in real life, and for those who don’t, yet.
The media portrays yoga as a sort of sport or new age activity for young, super-thin, gumbyish people folding their bodies into shapes that 99% of us will never achieve. It frustrates me. People assume they need to look like before they can practice yoga. Or that if you practice yoga, you will look like that. Neither is true. Both become a barrier to the practice of yoga and what it can offer.
When the man asked the question, we had just finished a sitting mindfulness meditation. It was a 7-minute meditation, and when I asked who had wished we had gone for a bit longer in the meditation, no one raised their hand. I asked who had felt a bit tortured. Several people raised their hands. Many nodded.
Mindfulness is about training our attention, often using sitting meditation, with a focus on the breath, as the practice to do this. For some people, however, it is just too hard to sit and get still. During the day, and even during the night sometimes, stress can fill your body with anxious energy. That energy needs a way to be released. Why not go for a walk or run or do some other aerobic activity?
The beauty of yoga, beyond other forms of movement or exercise, is that it’s a two-for-one. You are moving your body AND also breathing in a particular slow rhythmic way, to cultivate attention and balance your body’s nervous system. Yoga is not about handstands, backbends, or cool yoga pants.
It’s about reconnecting and paying attention—to yourself, as a practice of self-care. That’s scary if there is a loud judge in your head ready to begin a litany of criticisms the moment you get started. (We all have one, or sometimes even more, of those!) Your judge may even be keeping you from exploring what yoga might have to offer you.
The practice of yoga is that. It is noticing that judge, and saying, “thanks for your opinion” and then rolling out your mat (and you don’t even need a mat!) in the privacy of your home to see what your body needs and to find what feels good.
Yes, yoga feels good.
Lie there, breathe, remember back to when you were an uninhibited child. Listen to your body. Get curious. When the judge wants to pop in say, “No thanks, I’m busy playing.”
Yes, play. Yes, you.
Put on music you love. Move when you feel something asking to be moved. You, at whatever age you are, at whatever flexibility level you are, wearing whatever clothes you have on, can find a place within the practice of yoga. She is a beautiful friend when you give her a chance.
Breath. Feel what you feel. Move your body as if you were the most precious being that ever lived. You are.
Go slow. Be in the moment, fully. That is yoga.