Last year a friend of mine asked me why I did yoga. I had a hard time answering.
I have many colleagues in the functional fitness world that “don’t believe in stretching” and so when the topic of yoga comes up, the heat is on.
Why stretch, they say, when you can improve functional movement and strength without the risks (injury, hyperlaxity, etc) associated with long duration stretching?
So to have my yoga practice questioned flustered me, and, as many of you can probably relate, I thought of the perfect thing to say long after the moment had passed.
Today. Almost six months later.
I share with you my reply to this friend’s question because I think all of us need to question why we do yoga. One’s yoga practice is only as good as one’s intentions, and much like all things in life, we damned well better have a good explanation for anything we do.
As you read this, I hope you’ll reflect. Is your yoga practice making you a better person, or do you just really like showing off how bendy you are?
So, more important than sharing why I do yoga, here are the reasons why I don’t.
I don’t practice yoga to improve my strength and mobility, or to manage pain and correct crappy movement quality. Although those are always a welcome bonus.
I will not use yoga to “stretch” or to get more flexible. No, because I know that that is not what I need. Stretching for the sake of stretching is what got me stuck in a chronic injury cycle three years ago when I was in school for dance.
In fact, it was an injury from a yoga class that really screwed me over forcing me to stop dancing. But no, I can’t blame yoga for that, I can only blame myself.
It took me years to realize that yoga is the physical experience of my state of mind.
It’s how I face myself. The good and the bad. And every time I step on the mat it takes all the courage I have. My yoga practice is often less about being flexible, or strong, or about how pretty I can make the asanas look, and more about bravery.
Some postures scare the shit out of me.
It’s embarrassing, but two years ago, I couldn’t do a forward bending posture without crying. And likewise, there have been times I’ve almost burst out laughing during back-bending postures, like cobra.
Yes, I’m that weirdo in your yoga class.
But it takes bravery to allow oneself to become so vulnerable as to hold and breathe in a position in which you can feel an emotion rising and not let go. To stay focused, and ride it out. Feeling like you want to get the hell out, but holding on because you know that every moment you fight for it you experience a part of your mind that you would otherwise not know existed.
It’s scary when you don’t understand why some postures make you uncontrollably emotional. And it can be embarrassing to become so emotional in a group class. You feel out of control, but it’s only because you’ve been in control for too long. Let go. Allow the posture to release what needs to be released.
All you have to do is breathe and let the posture do its work.
Breathe and pay attention.
Breathe and don’t lose courage. Be scared, but hold in there. If you can face your own mind, you can face anyone’s.
Before, when I did yoga for the sake of stretching and showing off, all I got out of it was pain and injury, and then sadness because this pain prevented me from practicing yoga. I hope the irony is clear.
And there are those who take up yoga because they want to look like a “yogi.” What does a yogi even look like? What does it look like to have courage? To have awareness and determination? What does it look like to be vulnerable?
Are they always thin? Toned? Flexible? Maybe sometimes. But that’s not what’s important. Looks are marketing. People will always worship looks, and if you look the part, the people will follow.
Why do I do yoga?
I practice yoga because the emotional component of movement fascinates me (now that I don’t need to cry every time I forward-bend).
Because breathing heals me, and there is no other time in the course of my day where I can dedicate 90 minutes straight to breath, getting high on oxygen.
And most of all, I do yoga because so often I am tempted to slip into silly old patterns of fear and dissatisfaction with who I am, and yoga helps me develop the courage to face myself, and to face life.
If I can get through a 90 minute yoga class without crying, it’s a good day. If I can focus on breathing from my abdomen for 90 minutes then it’s likely that I can bring that same focus into any other aspect of my life.
If I can prevent myself, in a yoga class, from slipping into old patterns, then I know for sure that I am capable of change. That my future doesn’t have to be like my past.
The physical benefits are secondary.
Yoga is about experiencing yourself, the physical embodiment of your state of being, and it certainly isn’t always going to be fun.
But a life worth living is not an easy one. It’s one that takes courage to overcome fear and adversity, and if you bring this intention to the mat, you face yourself, and, no matter what happens, you step off the mat a better person.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Monkia Volkmar
Editor: Travis may
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