I often get asked about yoga. It goes with the territory, being a yogi, practitioner and teacher. To be clear, I like being asked about yoga. It’s been a lifelong passion, interest and practice of mine. I humbly think I know a fair amount about the philosophy and practices of yoga. I have been taught by some of the best, and the most amazing and knowledgeable teachers. I have taught yoga classes for over a decade. I have seen how yoga works for others, as well as me. So this is my ground. Your welcome to it. Let’s find out more.
Usually the enquiry is along the lines of “Is it for me?”, “I am not very flexible”, “I want to be more flexible”, or “I don’t want to do any chanting”. Usually though, following a chat with me, they never get to chant, do some twisty, bendy moves, wear lycra, or use a yoga mat. Often, they wont be doing yoga because they realise following our chat, that they are doing yoga already. Or rather, they have the possibility for yoga in their lives. Confused ? Read on!
I am not ever going to do a “hard sell” on yoga “merch”, a yoga class or one to ones. I am told that I should. But I don’t, and there is a good reason not to. You’ll need to bear with me as I am going to venture into what to some may seem to be hair splitting, but is important. Here goes…..
Yoga is the collective name we give to a range of activities or practices – typically described as ashtanga or 8 limbs. This refers to the reference by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras that yoga has 8 discrete aspects or ‘limbs’. A yogi practices yoga in all of its guises – 8 limbs or more depending on the tradition that he or she follows.
Yoga is also the name you give to the asana or postures, usually. Generally people use the term yoga to talk about twisty, bendy postures, such as the iconic cross legged padmasana pose or well known adho mukhasana (downward dog) etc. It also means that a yoga practice or yoga class is framed as a class or practice where you just do postures, and none of the other stuff.
Yoga is also a description of a state of mind, or being. This means that you are experiencing yoga. Some might say you are “in yoga”.
It is this third description of yoga that I refer to, when I say that pretty much anything can be yoga. I really do mean this. So, you might be a runner, a swimmer, or weightlifter. You may like walking in nature. You might love art or literature. You may love cooking, or gardening. You may just like (when you can) socialising, or watching TV, reading a book, or the work that you do whatever it is. I once told a golfer that she was doing yoga disguised as golf, and if the description of her mornings on the fairway were as she described, it sounded like she was “in yoga”. By that I mean, “in the zone”.
You see it doesn’t matter what you do. As long as your body, breath and mind are integrated, you will be experiencing yoga. You don’t have to do the yoga postures, although to be fair they offer a powerful catalyst for your mind, body and breath. But rather than take on yet another thing. Stick to what you are doing as a regular routine, and work on the unification or integration of your body, breath and mind. If you unify your body, breath and mind this is yoga too. Some may consider this as being in a state of flow. The psychologist and author, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that flow, or being “in the zone” is a the state of concentration and engagement that can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one’s skills. The experience of those in this state of flow, is defined by a unity or integration of body, breath, and mind.
So there we have it. One of my bite sized yoga sayings, which I shared on the 28th January 2021 was taken from something TKV Desikachar is reported to have said in his lectures. Physical movement, or for that matter, anything, without conscious breath and awareness is something other than yoga. Desikachar said that it is “yoga anga banga” which I understand to mean “something other than yoga”.
So you don’t have to go to a yoga class, or practice yoga to be in yoga. Infact, a good thing to do is focus on what you love doing, perhaps as a regular or routine activity, and then work on your awareness of body, breath and mind. It may well be that when you are in the flow of the activity, you are in yoga.