What is Yoga?
Friday, June 21st was both the summer solstice and International Yoga Day. Over the past year I have become very interested in natural cycles like the moon and the seasons, so this year the summer solstice meant a lot more to me than in the past. I have also embarked on the journey to becoming a yoga teacher since this time last year, and now here I am, about to do my exam this coming week and then I will officially graduate on July 4th! It’s crazy how much can happen in a year! Honestly, at this time last year doing a yoga teacher training program was a vague idea to me, I didn’t realize I was actually going to do it! Needless to say, International Yoga day had me feeling all the feels and reflecting a lot about what yoga means to me, so that’s what I’m going to share with you today.
What is yoga? These days a lot of people think of yoga as just a workout, and a gentle one at that. Maybe something to supplement their weight lifting or running routine. While all of that can be true, it’s not the full story.
Yes, yoga can be a physical practice, both gentle and vigorous. Yoga aims to find balance between the two. That doesn’t mean one power flow class needs to be followed by one restorative class, it just means you find a balance that works for your body and your life. Yoga can make you break a sweat and get your heart rate up, even if it’s not “hot yoga”.
You don’t need to be flexible to do yoga. Yoga meets you where you are at. There are props to support you in any way necessary. There are modifications for everything. The point is to try, see where you’re at, and see how that evolves with practice. You may never be able to do the splits or a headstand (don’t worry, I can’t either!), but that’s not the goal. Honestly, I don’t believe in “goals” in yoga. You may have a pose that you want to work towards, but it should come from a place of love and curiosity, not because you want to look a certain way or feel like it will make you a “better” yogi.
There is no comparison in yoga, there is just you and your practice. If you’re looking around the room comparing yourself to others, then you’re not in your practice. I don’t buy into the idea of “advanced” yoga. There are some poses that are more challenging than others, but that varies across people. It depends on your body, everyone is different. But if I had to define what advanced yoga means to me, I’d say that the most “advanced” yogi is the one that can tune out what other people are doing, connect to their body, and honour their own needs in that moment. Trust me, this is easier said than done.
Yoga is a practice. It asks you to keep showing up and observing. The mat is a mirror. The way you respond on your mat is often how you respond off your mat. For example, when something is challenging, do you breathe through it or give up?
Yoga is a tool for self-inquiry. You can learn so much about yourself through the practice. It invites you to lovingly question yourself and observe the answer. For example, “what do I need today?” could be answered with “I need to sweat and get my heart rate up because I’m full of energy” or “I need to rest today”. The challenge is to honour whatever comes up. Another example is if you get frustrated during the practice (it happens!) you can ask yourself why. Are you feeling emotional recently because of something that happened the day before? Is there some energy that you’re holding on to that needs to be released? The answers could be endless, it’s up to you to be really honest with yourself.
Yoga can be spiritual if you allow yourself to go there. A lot of life lessons can be learned through the practice. The idea of creation and destruction. Life and death. Strength and surrender. All of the opposing forces come to light when you move your body and breathe, or when you sit in stillness and meditate.
Yoga means union. Uniting body and breath. Finding balance in the nervous system. Being with yourself in the present moment.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – The Bhagavad Gita
Yoga is so much more than just a workout, but you get out of it what you put in. If you show up with an open heart, open mind, and curiosity, I guarantee you will learn things about yourself that you never knew before.
Yoga has impacted my life greatly, and I feel like (while I still have my fair share of struggles) it has made me a better person. I’m so excited, humbled, and honoured to be able to share this beautiful, ancient practice with others in just under two weeks from now!