I have been “practicing” yoga for years. And yet, for those who know me can attest to, I certainly don’t have a yoga body:). Many people I talk to about yoga have that same sorta reaction: “If you do yoga so often, how come you don’t have a yoga body like Sting.” HA!
So much of the exercise we do is for our body. We build muscle. Strengthen our core. Improve our cardio.
But what about the most important part of our existence? Our mind?
For me, what I love most about yoga is not the physical, but the spiritual. And that’s what I think most people get wrong about it. It’s actually more of a mental workout than a physical one. Yes, yes, yes, of course it’s great for stretching, strengthening your core, improving posture and all that. But for me, yoga has truly changed my life and I am very blessed to have an amazing yoga studio that inspires me daily.
“Set your intention. Observe your thoughts. Then let them go. And breathe!”
That’s how my classes usually begin. With that instruction.
And all of the poses that we go through during our practice reinforce that philosophy. It’s about holding a pose and letting it go.
Hold the pose, let it go. Just as you hold your thoughts, and let them go. It’s one in the same.
It’s that training that is the most impactful part of the practice. Holding, observing, breathing, letting go.
Hold. Observe. Breathe. Let go.
What most people don’t know about yoga is that while the original yoga sutras were developed 2,000 years ago, it’s really just in modern times that the practice focused on the physical. Up to then, yoga was mainly about using your breath for healing and meditation purposes. Here is a great overview of the history of yoga.
So why is yoga so important to me on my own spiritual journey? To start, here are some great reads on the healing power of yoga:
As someone who loves quotes, there are so many great ones to share on yoga which really get to the heart of its spiritual benefits and powers:
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life.”
“Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived.”
“Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming.”
“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”
“The pose begins when you want to leave it.”
And my personal favorite: “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
For me, yoga has given me five core benefits that I experience everyday. They are all very closely connected to my Buddhist practice which is also focused on finding happiness and inner peace inside each of us and not being dependent or a prisoner of your external circumstances.
Here is what yoga spiritually does for me:
*Mindfulness every minute of everyday – the essence of yoga is being in the present. Letting distractions go. Focusing. And that’s the essence of mindfulness as well. Yoga is an amazing tool to help you become more mindful throughout your daily life.
*Compassion for myself and others – in every class our teachers tell us that we are here to cherish our body and our thoughts and, by practicing yoga, we are offering compassion to ourselves. I love that!
*Breathing as healing – my teachers are consistently reminding us to breathe. Breathe in and breathe out. I use this breathing all day as the basis of my own stress relief. We forget how much healing can be done by simply breathing.
*Observing and letting go – the act of a pose is to hold it and let it go. It’s the same with our thoughts. Don’t judge them — instead, see them, acknowledge them, don’t suppress them, and then kindly, gently move them along. Amazing healing powers when you do that all day and night.
*Gratitude – Typically we end each class with some thoughts about gratitude. Not just for the practice itself, but for one another. And we bow and honor each other as the last thing we do. Fucking awesome!
A lot of the time when we exercise, we practice the intensity of that activity and when we are done, we are done. Sure we healed and strengthened our bodies during that period. But with yoga, when you really understand what it’s all about, it is something that can stay with you all day and night. Even, especially even, when you aren’t practicing the actual yoga.
So, if you are someone that practices yoga but doesn’t necessarily enjoy the mental and spiritual benefits, consider focusing more on your thoughts and breathing during your next practice.
And, if you are someone who thinks yoga is only stretching and funny, awkward poses, give it a try and keep this blog in mind. Bet that it will change your perception, and quite possibly, change your life… it did for me.
PS-one final thought. One of the words you might find in a lot of my writing is the word “practice”. It’s how I actually view life. That we never really arrive anywhere. Nor should we. That life itself is the destination and that anything we can do that is a daily practice, is a way to remind us that it’s all about the journey. My yoga is a practice. Buddhism is called a practice too. Meditation and mindfulness are the same way. Perhaps think about your own life and what you are “practicing” everyday. It makes for a really peaceful state of mind and can really help you reach a place of peace.