Ever wonder why your teacher practices yoga? Here are some stories from a group of dedicated teachers.
There are so many reasons why I do yoga.
I practice because it not only makes my body healthy, but it calms my brain (which runs a mile a minute). My thoughts float like the wind and my moods can shift on a dime. This affects people around me and sometimes in ways that “ain’t hot.”
Through yoga, I have learned to refrain from quick reactions, to retain calmness and to just breathe. It reminds me to be the observer, the witness—and although there is a greater force—I am in control of my own happiness while surrendering to the flow. Through yoga, I’ve learned to live with more awareness; a practice that definitely makes life more fun.
Yoga feels pretty damn good. The tingling sensation that flows through my body after class, the tears that stream for no apparent reason, the smiles on my face and the way my muscles relax after a challenging posture are all subtle reminders that something good is happening.
When I practice, my ego is in check, especially when I encounter a posture that I just can’t seem to maneuver. I’m reminded that life’s definitely not about the destination; it’s about the journey.
I practice because it is a way to honor my body. I practice because I am doing something to enhance and support the community. I practice because it provides hours of free fun to grab a mat and some friends and play in the park.
I do yoga because it makes me feel better about myself.
I’ve always been a somewhat insecure person as I was obsessed with body image from all of my impressionable years spent as a gymnast. My coaches weighed me daily and recommended eating peaches and lettuce to stay slim. I was allowed 12 fat grams per day; seriously?!
Once I quit gymnastics, my mom and I started doing yoga at the YMCA together. I felt like I could still flip upside down, stretch, move and feel graceful, but without the competitiveness and the fear of trying to be perfect.
Today, I stay fit by doing yoga, but I don’t let the body image stuff get out of hand. The meditation of remaining present in sensation versus reflection in the mirror help me in simply letting go of past and present, fear and doubt.
I find so much physical and mental relief in practicing yoga. It’s the one place I feel really comfortable in my own skin. It’s sort of like doing laundry. You wear your clothes just like your emotions and baggage, you get them dirty, toss them on the floor, then clean them, fold them and repeat. Yoga wrings out my mind and enables me to start fresh every day.
My Yoga practice is one of the few times I encourage selfishness in my mind.
Yoga is an escape from the rest of my existence. There’s no greater sense of solitude then when I’m alone with my breath on my mat.
I do yoga for me and no one else.
When I’m lost in practice, all of my worries are lost as well. It’s therapy. It’s artistic expression. It’s anger management and anything else I need it to be.
It’s a safe space to work sh*t out.
I am a seeker.
I am always seeking answers to the unanswerable: seeking greater, deeper, lasting happiness. Exploring by trial and error and coming to understand what will remain and what will fall away with time. My reasons for practicing yoga have changed over the years, but my connection to this system of introspection has remained. I will always practice yoga.
When I began my practice in college, I sought a form of exercise for health and stress relief. Being naturally flexible and an athlete, the physical aspects of the practice came as an exciting new venture.
I spent so many hours per day and days per week at that little yellow studio in Boulder, Colorado seeking the approval and compliments of teachers. Hearing one of them say, “your practice is so beautiful” was so gratifying for me, even while I couldn’t quite understand why or what that meant. I just liked that in some way I was leaving transformed at the end of the day.
My first teachers were all Anusara instructors who incorporated philosophies of ancient texts like the Bhagavad Gitaand Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra in their classes. I was immediately curious about the application of these philosophies in my own life. Seeking the same grace and sense of peace that my teachers emitted, I pushed myself to consider:
How do we find deep spiritual lessons within a physical experience?
What does the application of focus and steadiness reveal to us?
I grew more and more committed to practicing yoga and taking workshops that analyzed philosophy and opened the conversation beyond asana, beyond physical postures, to the link between body and mind. We addressed the issues of flexibility and strength of both and this conversation has never left me.
But, what about Spirit? Who is she? Who is the deep inner voice guiding me, the one whose direction grows louder and clearer with every breath that quiets my persistently inquisitive mind? With the help of some self-study and guidance from countless teachers, I’ve come to recognize my spiritas that voice that speaks not through word and reason, but through feeling; a feeling of contentment that I’ve come to know when I trust life’s lessons. A feeling in my gut for knowing what is right for me.
Today, I practice yoga to stay sane. To find a place within myself that is trusting of life’s experiences and its chain of events. To navigate through this life in a way that is graceful and thoughtful. To be compassionate and kind to others and more challengingly to myself. And, as a seeker of answers to life’s questions, yoga has become like religion. I do yoga because it is a discipline that enables me to feel strong and graceful, powerful and peaceful. . . body, mind and spirit.
As a yoga teacher I ask this question to my students often.
More often than not I believe that many answer with what they think they should say.
The word “yoga” and the definitions that we project on it are the reasons why there is a type of hypocrisy that is sometimes associated with the yoga lifestyle. And I think it is this hypocrisy that makes the practice of westernized yoga difficult for many people to be open to even trying it.
For example, the most physically fit yoga students that strive to achieve the most physically demanding postures tend to say that they practice yoga for anything other than for physical achievement. It is these physically fit students that say they practice yoga for some spiritual achievements like enlightenment, stillness and to become closer to God.
Is it okay to say that we practice yoga for physical fitness or physical achievements? Or is it not “spiritually correct” to say we practice yoga to be able to someday achieve a handstand?
As for the reasons I practice yoga, they have changed over the years. The reason I started practicing was because I liked the word “yoga.” I didn’t even know what it was when I first rented a Rodney Yee video. I think what kept my interest in yoga is that I felt proud in the basic postures like warrior poses. I also felt like I was staying in shape with all the sun salutations that I did. I liked to sweat at that time and Bikram yoga felt good too.
I think a large part of why I continued to practice yoga was to be able to achieve full lotus. My years living in India were to see how many advanced abilities I could achieve with my teacher. I was also interested in breathing techniques and how they changed the way I felt. I didn’t know it at the time, but meditation helped me deal with life’s little difficulties.
The next phase of why I practiced yoga was to understand as much as I could so I could help my students improve their practice. At the moment I practice yoga to keep my body comfortable so when I get “really old” I will be able to function until the end of my life.
Why do I practice yoga?
Because it reveals the interconnected nature of things: in my body, in my mind-body, in my community on this earth.
Because it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that’s gotten me paid while making me genuinely happy.
Because without the steadiness that yogic breathing provides me, I might snap and karate chop that asshole who cat-called me, or cut me off in traffic or was rude to my mother.
Because it makes me a good dancer. Because it helps me sing in harmony. Because I realized that the rhythm of my breath is the rhythm of the universe.
Because it flips me upside down, and if that’s not a good time, I don’t know what is.
Because it’s a whole, complete, systemic approach to living a balanced, content life. It leaves nothing out.
Because it stokes and inspires my creativity.
Because I’ve seen the light and cannot go back in the cave and I feel compelled to share what I have learned.
Because I like cut triceps. And nice booties.
Because it never gets boring. Not yet. Can’t really imagine it ever will.
Because it taught me that I can cultivate love, kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity in order to create the best kind of home for my mind.
Because my organs like it. I take better poos with yoga. (TMI?)
Because I’m uninsured and underinsured. Yoga + mindful diet + love = healthcare.
Because it helps me unravel the web of samskara. It creates a pause, a space, a breath between what occurs and how I react to it. That s p a c e leaves some room for a conscious choice instead of a mindless habitual response. I’m enamored with that space.
Because my sacroiliac joint and right shoulder are a mess without it.
Because what started in my body, led me to my mind, which led me to my heart, which led me to understand that it’s all just different manifestations of the same blessed sh*t.
Because I don’t really do yoga; yoga does me. And over and over and over again, it does me right.
Yoga helps me to love better.
And by this I mean not just be a better lover (though it helps in that area too), but it actually makes it possible for me to feel love more deeply and freely. I once heard that no one escapes childhood unscathed and I feel that this is true. It wasn’t until I started doing yoga every day that I forgave my parents, the kids on the playground, the girls in high school and, most importantly, myself.
I was totally one of those people who did yoga for the workout. I got super annoyed when teachers spoke about God or personal relationships. I thought they were all phonies.
Then, one day I was at Corepower in Denver (nonetheless) taking a “heart-opening workshop” and chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” with this guy Rusty Wells who was in town teaching a workshop. Being your typical non-religious, though Catholic-raised girl from the Midwest, this felt awkward and hokey. I wasn’t a Hindu or some new-agey girl from California, but I went along with it because everyone else was and I didn’t want to be rude.
We did a series of backbends and ass-kicking vinyasa sequences and over all I enjoyed the class. However, something strange happened while I laid in savasana (corpse pose). I was totally in a trance-like state and felt my chest moving in slow convulsions. Then, I became aware of what I thought was a profuse amount of sweat on my face and realized I was crying. I didn’t feel sad, or overwhelmed, but I just watched as my body sob all on its own.
Afterwards, I felt a deep, calm sense of relief. I felt lighter. I felt better. The yoga had “opened me up” and still continues to do so to this day. Every time I do yoga, I shift emotionally and energetically. Sometimes I leave still feeling sh*tty, but I trust I am going to move through it, because after practicing for ten-plus years it has never let me down. Whatever it is I am dealing with isn’t going to get lodged in my hips, or add to my TMJ issues. It’s going to move on. There is going to be more space for me to feel love instead of fear.
So yeah, that’s why I do yoga; it makes it possible for me to love better and get over my sh*t easier, so that overall, I feel better about myself and I am better to those around me. And who doesn’t want that?
Oh yeah, girls. I do it for the girls.
Where else are you going to get this kind of ratio? But the people that do yoga are usually kind of nuts. I’m nuts. I do yoga. It’s not designed for people who have it figured out.
Some of those girls are wearing clothes so tight they pass out half way through the class. Some of the guys push themselves so hard physically they tear their bodies to pieces in the name of an “advanced” pose. It makes you look like an idiot really.
Doing yoga made me realize I was a little f*#ked up. And I realized a lot of the people in the room were really f*#ked up too. My dreams of meeting my ultimate soul mate in a class quickly faded.
Good luck dating a yoga person. Not only do you have to contend with some of their innate insecurities, but you have to listen to what Patanjali would have said about them too. That, and it’s always Mercury or Venus’ fault when someone is acting like a crazy person. Good God.
Right when I was about to leave the game, I came across a class that was even greater than my ego, and my world went flying into a stage five sh*t-storm that I’ve never come back from.
There ain’t no bullsh*t in yoga if you do it right. Practicing every day made me realize what a spoiled little b*tch I was. You don’t gain anything by rolling out your mat only when it’s convenient, or when you’re in the mood. Then it’s just like every other thing that you control in your life. But when you’re practicing and you want to gorilla slam your fist into the floor because you’ve slept three hours in the last four days and your downward dog feels like absolute sh*t on your shoulder, you learn a thing or two. Mainly that you’re a psycho, but also that things fluctuate.
Yoga is stronger, smarter, faster, wiser, older, more mature, more patient, more compassionate than me—it’s simply better than me. And I kind of hate that. But it motivates me every day to wake up and try and be as good as yoga. It may never happen, but I have to hope, or else I will develop a serious drinking problem.
I do yoga because it’s one of the hardest, most demanding things I’ve ever tried. I tried to dominate yoga. I attacked it and it tore my knee. I pushed too hard and it blew out my shoulder. I wanted immediate answers and it didn’t say shit. Yoga doesn’t do what you want it to do. You can’t beat it, cheat it or move any further along in it than where you truly are. It is the ultimate opponent and the ultimate teacher, because it’s you; it’s a reflection of you at that exact moment. If you can’t deal with who you are, then talk to your shrink before undergoing a practice.
But then you have that moment when it all clicks and you feel and know everything that exists in your body and in the world, and it’s the absolute best. Hard to come by that kind of thing. Glad I found it in this lifetime.
Hi, my name is Kirk Hensler and I own a yoga studio in San Diego called Hale Holistic. Imagine a world where you sit happily in full lotus enjoying how incredibly effortless it is and how lifting your “heart light” up to the sun while manifesting world peace is as easy as breathing. Now imagine a gang of seasoned yoga ninjas smacking you upside the head for spending too much time thinking about such things.
Life isn’t perfect and it’s definitely not easy. And yoga teachers are about as far from perfect as it gets. Some are hiding behind the yoga and some have used it as a potent weapon to penetrate their deepest questions. We’d like to think we have a group of honest and powerful teachers that can share their experiences without filtering out the challenges. Hale Holistic offers yoga for real people—people who swear when they’re angry, people who sleep late sometimes and people who might not speak Sanskrit.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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