An Apology for Yoga

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November 1, 2017 by Cláudia

(Almost) every day of my life, I wake up an hour earlier than I would have had to in order to practice 30-45 minutes of yoga. It might seem like I am quite disciplined and determined but that’s not the case at all. What happens is that, after more than two years of practice, yoga has become the mental and physical hygiene that allows me to go through my day.

Now, I know everyone has already heard of a million ideas to boost your life in every area, but I’m not going to try to sell you yoga as a miraculous solution of any kind. Yoga is not miraculous because yoga changes you from within at the pace that you are open to change. It will not fix anything and it certainly should not be used as a replacement for therapy.

I realize it can seem like a cult to people who have yet been enchanted by it – a lot of the poses resemble prayers and a lot of its lexicon is connected to Hindu gods and the Universe’s energies. As someone who has always looked everywhere for some kind of spirituality (or that sees spirituality everywhere) I was totally on board, but for someone that appreciates a more rational discourse, it might be offputting.

The main thing about a yoga practice is that it is personal. This means we should take on what serves and leave out the rest. Later we can come back to what we set aside and maybe see it through different eyes. Every single person that practices yoga is having a different experience, and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be. We bring our experiences to the practice and the practice helps us giving significance to what is going on with us. In our own time and our own terms.

What matters the most is not mastering the poses, weight loss, flexibility or mental focus – even though these will inevitably come with practice. What matters most is showing up for yourself, putting aside the day and taking a breather. Moving your body and energy in a way that is beneficial for both. Whether we’re moving the body swiftly, gently or in stillness, we are connected, mindful of the sensations and in the present moment (even if just for a second!). At least that’s the practice. And I swear it is harder than it sounds.

We live in a day and age in which we can hardly spend time on ourselves and we’re constantly distracted with other concerns, plans, chores, social media, news and information. We spend so much time in front of screens that we’ve grown attached to the devices that alienate us – from others, from the outside world, but more severely, from ourselves. The little time we spend on ourselves can lead to emotional clutter, which means we are piling up emotions that we have not addressed, as well as thoughts storage because we have not had time to go through all our thoughts. It is necessary to accept, process and release.

I would love to say that I started yoga because I realized how much my mind was overwhelmed and in need to release negativity. That’s not what happened though. What happened was that I gained some weight and because of that I started doing some short fitness classes on Youtube, mostly focused on the abs. I had never sustained any sort of exercise in my life and I was both very bored with it and expecting immediate results. What actually happened was that I gained even more weight and my frustration was skyrocketing. I came across the Youtube channel Yoga With Adriene and started doing her Yoga for Weight Loss series. It was completely different because instead of saying I should always work harder, I was told I was doing enough and that made me want to stick with it. Because I was told that I could bring to the practice whatever was going on inside, every single practice was different and therefore I was not bored anymore – every day I learnt something new about myself or my body, even if it was how hard it is to have my back straight for a long time or how good it feels to stretch out a certain muscle.

Yoga does build strength but always in a mindful way. The yoga asanas, or poses, work all muscles in the body (even muscles you didn’t know existed!) and this is what brings many people to yoga nowadays (including me, hey, no judgement here!). But yoga builds muscle at a slower and more steady pace than other forms of exercise. We are not supposed to feel pain (no pain no gain is not something yoga stands for) or to push your body too far like we see in other fitness programmes. Not being able to do a pose or hold it for very long is actually an amazing exercise of acceptance and self-love.

Because it is different for each person and adaptable, yoga is for everyone and everyone could benefit from it. Because it is an internal journey and not a formula, it can apply to everyone and it respects everyone’s rhythm. There is a common misconception that you have to be a certain way to be able to do yoga – flexible, focused, calm etc. Very frequently I hear “Yoga is not for me because I can’t sit still with my own thoughts for a long time” but I’d say that’s exactly why you should give it a go! There are absolutely no pre-requisitions (poses can be modified according to your body, energy, mood etc.) but you will see improvements in those areas that you initially thought could be an obstacle to begin a yoga practice. Do you have a very stiff body? A hyperactive mind? Trouble being still? Perfect! Yoga is just what you need.

Aside from all the physical benefits, yoga helps to create a healthy relationship with yourself and therefore with others. Creating a healthy relationship with yourself involves also creating a healthy relationship with your body. In the meantime, I have gained some weight (because my anxiety reduced significantly) yet I have never felt more comfortable with my body, I’ve never felt stronger or more healthy. This healthy relationship with yourself also means forgiveness, pulling away from toxic thoughts, being proud of your achievements and accepting your shortcomings. One thing I struggle with is self-deprecating thoughts – I am so vile and cruel to myself when I think I have failed. When practising yoga, I am able to forgive myself: we cultivate self-love by accepting how we are feeling at a particular moment with no judgements (I feel tired/ I feel restless but that is okay).

In our lives, we are constantly trying to change something about our behaviour. In yoga (and meditation) we are allowed to just be. You may not be interested in spirituality, in connecting with the Universe’s energy or in the History of yoga, but self-love is universal and crucial to living a happy life.

I promise I’m almost done preaching about the wonders of yoga but let me just spend one last moment addressing the expression namasteNamaste means literally I bow to you and figuratively the light in me bows to the light in you. In other words, the best in me bows to the best in you. I know that deep inside me lives my true self, below my insecurities, traumas, past experiences and ideas. Below all of that, I have myself, truly who I am. I may not always behave accordingly to my true self, but I know who I am deep down and I’m trying to come as close as I can to my true self. When I say namaste, I recognize that in myself as well as in others – I may not understand someone else’s behaviours but I recognize and love their true selves. Even if for a brief moment, I am in communion with myself and the Universe.

Finally, I share the view that it is not possible to be this zen master that is always calm, forgiving and mindful and in any case that’s not what I’m aiming at. Plus, I have learnt that mastering every yoga pose would be fun, but it is not the ultimate goal and it is okay if I never ever do it. Yoga has taught me that I don’t have to suffer, I don’t have to push myself over the edge, I don’t have to be better than anyone else and I don’t have to track my progress. I just have to show up, do my best and accept my current situation – and this is yoga. 

 

If you are willing to give yoga a go, going to a yoga studio is the best option – there’s nothing like experiencing it with a class and a teacher in the flesh. However, beware that every teacher has a different teaching style and therefore it may not be suited for you. Alternatively, there are so many online resources that if you can’t afford to pay for classes or you just don’t want to go to a public class, you can fully develop your practice at home. I personally recommend Yoga With Adriene and Fightmaster Yoga, which are the ones that I actually practice regularly with, although I would not recommend Fightmaster Yoga for a beginner. Reading a book about yoga could also help to tie some loose ends – the book I am reading right now is called The Spirit of Yoga and it is a nice introduction to it, though I am certain there are a lot more amazing yoga books.

 

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