“Practising Yoga”: A Humble Student’s Reflections
For most westerners “practising yoga” involves heading off to a studio to practice poses, which is a good place to start. However, one may soon discover that practising Yoga is intricate, originating more than 4000 years ago. In fact, Yoga can be described as a web of the world’s most esoteric philosophies and beautiful literature. To feel confused and overwhelmed is common so I will try to provide a [very] brief Q&A. Please keep in mind that Yoga is interpreted in a myriad of ways and I do not suggest my commentary to be definitive (after all, I am a student just like you).
What is “Yoga”?
In the West, yoga is typically viewed as a way to improve physical strength, mobility, stability and flexibility. Most certainly, when done properly, it enhances physical well-being. Likewise, meditation has gained popularity due to considerable scientific research and increased practice by celebrities. But both of these practices are only tiny pieces of the Yoga puzzle.
In its truest form, Yoga is an ancient philosophy offering ways to witness our humanity, explore it with sincerity and compassion, and to live more lovingly, authentically and peacefully. Probably the most well-known in the West is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, establishing The Eight Limb Path. Patanjali and others who followed, created various roadmaps to gain equanimity by honing self-awareness and self-regulation. What is self-regulation you ask? Yoga helps us understand we self-regulate when choosing how we think, speak and act – everyday, all day long. Ultimately, what follows self-awareness and self-regulation, is transcendence – which can be described as living in a more loving and peaceful way. But if and when one does achieve the destination of transcendence, the journey is where the growth occurs and “practicing yoga” is established.
How does practising poses help?
In addition to becoming physically healthy, when practising yoga postures a student is encouraged to ask themselves “how do I feel?”. This is integral when learning self-awareness: how does the body, spirit and mind feel before, during and after class? Was there fatigue or invigoration? Frustration or ease? Curiosity or boredom? Was there sadness or anger before class and understanding after? Was the breath strong and smooth enough to support the physical body and quiet the mind?
Simply put, Yoga tells us there is no separation between the body, spirit and the mind; what one aspect of our being is experiencing, so do the others. We come to our mat to move and breathe, to quiet the mind, steady the body and perhaps experience deeper personal understanding. We let go of tension and find ease. And when that occurs, it’s just easier to be more loving and peaceful.
The poses may teach us to be patient, with ourselves and others. Or perhaps its letting go of judgment, self-criticism or fear of failure. Even hubris. When we choose to witness ourselves sincerely and compassionately on our mat, we are “practising yoga”.
Whether it’s a posture class, meditation, japa (mantra repetition) or pranayama (breath control), with regular practice self-awareness grows in harmony with a healthier physical, emotional, mental and spiritual state of well-being. That is how yoga helps us feel so good and that’s how it helps us to self-regulate.
How do I know if what I’m doing is right?
The most truthful answer is that it must feel right for you – in your body and intuitively. It is a tenet of Yoga that there is no greater teacher than the student themselves. Each of us knows what we need. Practising Yoga is a way to serve ourselves so we can serve others.
What does Namaste mean?
It is the salutation used in a class to honour each other’s divinity. This interpretation is one of many: When the sweetness that dwells within my heart and soul, honours that same light within you, we are one.