These days we all have some familiarity with yoga. It's in television, magazines and every where else we look. Given it's relevancy in pop culture you'd think we would have a clear grasp on what it is, however that is not always the case. Let's look at some of the common questions surrounding the practice.
What exactly is yoga?
Yoga is a unique combination of physical practice, moral philosophy, self purification, meditation, and breath control. These processes combined bring about balance of mind and body to the practitioner. Yoga means union, the union of the indiviual soul with the universla spirit, but this is too abstract to be easily understood so we say that yoga is the union of body, mind and soul. If you translate Yoga from it's native language of Sanskrit, "yuj," literally means "to yoke, to join, or to unite." Yoga, as we understand it today, was developed over three thousand years ago in India. (There are some schools of thought that believe yoga began at the dawn of human civilization.) The ultimate aim of Yoga is Self-realization, to overcome all kinds of sufferings leading to the state of liberation or freedom.
Who can practice?
Anyone. You don't have to be flexible, strong, calm or whatever other stereotype you may have in mind. ANYONE can practice yoga.
What about the fancy poses?
The poses are a teeeeeeny part of it. Truly. Don't buy into the myth that the poses are all yoga is about. I like to joke with my students that "you're not going to become instantly enlightened the moment you put your feet behind your head." While physical and mental health are natural consequences of yoga, the goal of yoga is more far-reaching.
Do I need certain clothes or a specific mat?
You only need yourself. You can buy yourself yoga pants and a fancy mat if that helps to motivate you, but if you really want to start practicing all you need is to begin.
What language was that?
If you've ever been in a class and heard a teacher call a pose by a name that sounded like a different language, she was probably giving you the sanskrit name. Sanskrit is a language, comparable to latin, that is no longer spoken but is the native language of the ancient yoga texts.
Is it religious?
Yoga is not a religion! Yoga is more of a philosophy than anything else. It's a set of tools to help one navigate living in these bodies and becoming our best selves. It can be used to enhance your connection with whatever spiritual deity you identify with, but yoga itself is not that.
Is it appropriation?
This is a BIG topic which I hope to address in depth in another form. I mention it here because of its relevancy and importance. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. Because of the presence of power imbalances that are a byproduct of colonialism and oppression, cultural appropriation is distinct from equal cultural exchange. The system of yoga comes from India, which for many years was under colonial rule. The problem lies not with you doing the practice, but with how yoga is commonly practiced and commercialized in Western contexts like the US. Let's be clear that this isn’t about reclaiming yoga for Hindus as some right wing extremism calls for – that’s counteractive to the work. It’s about understanding the complexities of oppression within the Western context of your yoga practice.
So how do I begin practicing?
Find a quiet place and sit! Really it can be that easy. Start to breathe with awareness. Breathe with intention. Breathe. Then if it feels good for you start to add movements to your breath. It doesn't have to be a particular way. Try to tune in- how does your body want to move? what feels good? Remember to breathe! Also- if you're interested join me for a class in the online studio!
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