Even if you do not own a yoga mat or go to a class, chances are you are still practicing yoga in some form. Have you taken a deep breath to calm yourself down recently? How about locking yourself in the bathroom for five minutes of peace and quiet (and I don’t mean to check your Facebook :-)?
Believe it or not, these actions are considered yoga. As set out by the ancient Indian sage Pantanjali in his writings The Yoga Sutras, not to be confused with the other famous text the Kama Sutra 😉 there are actually eight limbs to yoga. I won’t get into all eight right now but some of the limbs that make up yoga include: the physical postures (referred to as asana), breathing techniques (called pranayama) and meditation (dhyana in yogi speak). There are also limbs that describe ways to conduct ourselves (including cleanliness and contentment) and how to interact with others (truthfulness, non-harming and more).
So you see the physical postures such as downward facing dog and the warrior poses are just one part of yoga; however it’s the part that draws most people to the practice. We want to be able to increase our flexibility, get rid of a pesky running injury, or do that funky arm balance we saw our friend doing on Facebook. The awesome thing is… yoga can help accomplish all those things but then you find out there is so much more.
You are in class and your teacher talks about breathing. You learn how to breathe deep into your belly on your inhale and to use your exhale to let all the junk go. You realize that there’s nothing better than a great big sigh when you are in downward facing dog. Next thing you know, you are taking deep breaths more often when you are not in class. You even find yourself doing a Lion’s Breath (just picture a lion’s roar) while stuck in traffic. Who cares what the person next to you thinks! With that Lion’s Breath, your anger at being delayed has lessened. When your friend is late for a lunch date, you inhale for a count of five and exhale for the same. You repeat until she arrives and all of a sudden you are calm, her tardiness no longer annoys you and you have a wonderful lunch filled with laughter and great conversation.
Then one day in class your teacher makes you hold your Warrior 2 asking you to bend that front knee a little more to work your thigh parallel to the floor. Your legs are fired up and you think… “what, hold the pose for a minute, you gotta be kidding me? Okay, I can do this, no I can’t, yes I can”… and then it’s over, the minute has passed. You start to find that the more you practice holding difficult poses in class, the calmer your mind becomes. Then all of a sudden one day, a family member says something that would normally set you off and you don’t react, you remain calm. You process what has happened and then decide how to respond. No argument ensues, you feel great and there is a sense of peace in your household.
And what about that funky arm balance you saw your friend practicing on Facebook, the one you thought you would never, in a million years, be able to embody. How has that pose helped with life off the mat? The first time your teacher lead you through it in class you were scared, afraid you were going to break your nose when you fell flat on your face. But with step by step instruction, lots of encouragement and lots of falling (but no broken nose) you were finally able to fly. In your mind you say “wow, if I can fly in crow pose, what else can I do that has always scared me?” You think “I am stronger than I ever imagined” and the next thing you know you are speaking up more often in meetings, signing up for a running race, traveling by yourself. Things don’t seem so scary anymore and a world of possibilities has just opened up.
A teacher friend of mine recently said in one of her classes ‘shift your shape to shift your state of mind. So you see the asanas may be what initially draw you to yoga but the more you spend time moving your body with your breath the more you start to experience yoga in all areas of your life.