If you know me even a little, you know how much I love yoga and respect the wholeness of the practice that’s both an art and a science. I have been committed to yoga now for more than half of my life. I stumbled into my first class at age 20, knowing little about it. It was a community class (read: $5 in the middle of the day) and I was told I would like it. Well, I couldn’t believe how hard it felt, how much I was sweating on the tiny space of a yoga mat, and how I got my butt kicked in 90 minutes. Of course I was instantly hooked.
But it wasn’t just the physical challenge that had me appreciating this new “activity”. I remember this pervasive feeling when I was in Savasana that deep down, everything was OK... In fact, everything felt more than OK, maybe even a little mystical. It took me by surprise, because at that time in my life I felt pretty insecure and was experiencing a lot of unexplainable anxiety. Those feelings of panic and uncertainty simply faded by the end of each yoga class. Without fail, I always felt better after a yoga practice. Every. Single. Time.
Years later I now know what was happening! By turning off the mental turmoil and focusing my attention inside, I was connecting to the part of me that remains unaffected by my ever changing environment. I was experiencing YOGA – or the yoking of body, mind and spirit. I was accessing my deepest Self.
And that, my dear <<First Name>>, is what yoga is all about: Accessing the deepest aspect of ourselves so that we may know truth, love, peace and radiance.
So, let me say it loud and proud: Yoga is not a workout!!! Yes, it's great if you end up getting a workout, but it is not the point. Don't get me wrong – I have no issues with workouts. In fact, I think everyone should work out however they want. Personally, I love hiking, running, swimming and sometimes using exercise machines. I think weights are great too. The body needs to be worked out! But to approach yoga as such is dangerous because it’s easy to end up cultivating the opposite of peace, clarity and self-understanding.
Here are the two biggest pitfalls to approaching your yoga practice as such:
- Ironically, if what you are seeking is a work out, yoga is the least efficient. Your heart rate may increase enough for it to be aerobic but other forms of exercise are way better. And if you are seeking calorie burning, yoga is also low on the efficiency scale. There are better ways to work out if it’s about building muscle, or losing weight.
- The bigger pitfall is that by reducing yoga to merely a workout, we are steering ourselves away from the very essence of the practice: To connect to the inner space that’s beyond thinking, striving, achieving and accomplishment. We end up placing the emphasis on the body and thereby reinforcing the idea that the body or the achievement of poses is the thing that will bring us happiness or satisfaction or contentment. This is the ultimate trap. I cannot overemphasize this enough. It only produces more striving, attachment to outcome and ego. It’s not that there is anything wrong with a workout, there isn’t! It’s just that with a workout, the emphasis is on the body, as it should be. In yoga, the emphasis is on the Self. The body is simply a means of accessing the deeper internal states. It’s a matter of focus and where we place the emphasis. It’s backwards to think that yoga is the body. In the greater context of all of the yoga techniques and tools, asana (practicing the poses) is meant to clear the energy pathways (nadis) and prepare us for more advanced techniques like pranayama (breathing) and Dhyana (meditation).
So if you would like a work out, I highly recommend separating them from your yoga practice. One is for your body and the other is for your mind (or the journey to the Self). I think you’ll find more joy, satisfaction and peace from separating the two. In fact, considering those qualities can be a good measurement for how effective your yoga practice is. Rather than gauge whether you are physically stronger or more flexible, ask yourself: Am I consistently more accepting, peaceful, joyful, loving and at ease? How do I respond in times of challenge, disappointment or change? Do I know and love myself to the core?
I listened to this beautiful conversation this week: India Arie: Life After Rock Bottom on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations podcast. The conversation is not specifically about yoga, and yet it’s totally about yoga. She coins the term “songversation” and describes her unique journey to the Self. It’s beautiful, honest and quite yogic in nature. Give it a listen.
All Love & Yoga,