Physical Fitness was Never the Purpose of Yoga

Below is the article I was wrote for Wander Women Iowa. I thought it was a good one to share with you as well. Enjoy.

Many of us have read or heard about yoga and know there are great benefits to practicing. We read or know people who have increased their strength, balance and flexibility. They tell us practicing yoga is one of the hardest things they do. Benefits of being calm, centered and relaxed are also shared among those who practice. Why does this happen? What is really going on in a yoga class or practice to produce these outcomes? Is yoga just about the postures or is there something more?

The Sanskrit word yoga means “yoke.” It is union of the mind, body and spirit. Yoga is a practice of completely knowing yourself while being at peace with yourself. It truly is a journey and not a destination. There are many aspects to the practice of yoga. In our Western culture, the yoga poses or asanas take center stage. Many individuals associate the word yoga with just the postures. However, yoga is a comprehensive and wholistic practice incorporating a physical practice to move energy and help heal physical ailments. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra eightfold path, we are introduced to eight practices bringing an individual to enlightenment. These eight limbs are: 1) yamas, universal practices, 2) niyamas, self- discipline and spiritual observances, 3) asana, postures, 4) pranayama, breath control, 5) pratyahara, sensory transcendence, 6) dharana, concentration, 7) dhyana, meditation or contemplation and 8) samadhi, state of ecstasy.

These eight limbs create a comprehensive practice expanding an individual’s

conscious awareness while inviting self-reflection and exploration without judgement.

Practicing the asanas with mindfulness and curiosity is a great way to start. You can connect to your body feeling into each experience and gaining a better understanding of what your body can do and how a specific pose or movement feels to you. It is helpful to work with a teacher inviting you to try different positions and use modifications as needed. Our bodies are not created equal and moving with mindfulness keeps you out of pain and injury. When our bodies move with ease and energy flows freely, pain and inflammation decrease, and we are more able to do the activities we enjoy and love.

Including pranayama and meditation into your yoga practice can also be very helpful especially if you struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD and other mental conditions. Your breath is the bridge between your mind and body. When you begin to incorporate breathwork into your asana practice, the mind and body begins to move together. For example, when your breath slows down, your mind becomes calmer. When your breath is quick and shallow, your mind becomes more alert and excited.

Learning breathing practices can be done not only in a formal yoga practice but throughout your day when you are needing to slow down or be more present and alert.

When considering the practice of yoga, you may want to ask yourself the following questions?

1. Why do I want to practice? What benefits am I looking for?

2. What do I need more of to bring balance into my life?

3. Would I like to start in a group class, 1:1 with a teacher, or at home with a video or book?

4. Am I currently experiencing some physical or mental challenges and need modifications?

For those of us who live a very sedentary life, it can be very beneficial incorporating more movement into our self-care routine and opt for a class that focuses more on the yoga poses. For those of us who are always on the go and deal with feelings of stress and anxiety, practicing meditation and breath control while in a restorative or yin posture can help us move out of fight-or-flight into a calmer rest-and-digest state.

Increasing your strength, flexibility and balance will probably happen the more you step onto your yoga mat. But why settle for a work-out when you can have a work-in? Yoga is a very comprehensive and inclusive practice. It is as unique as your fingerprint. It is a practice you can do in a formal group class or at home in bed. One of my favorite benefits of practicing yoga is how personal it is. It is MY time for self-discovery and reflection. Every time I step onto my mat, I learn something about myself. This is my

intention. The more you ask of your yoga practice, the more you will get out of it. Why settle for gladiator biceps or claiming the ability to do a handstand in the middle of the room when you can also become more compassionate and more connected to the world around you. Intention (or your why) determines the result or benefits of your yoga practice. Yoga is an invitation to practice from within.