Yoga is much more than a physical practice. The true benefits are revealed as a result of , not within the physical practice.
I was first introduced to Yoga as a way to help alleviate physical pain. Years of poor posture, minimal exercise, and sub-par nutrition started catching up to me shortly after college while I was still adjusting to my new sedentary career. My first experience with Yoga was not a positive one. It caused additional pain and discomfort in my body. I was confused. Discouraged. Where was the relief I was seeking? I didn’t know where to turn. I felt like giving up on the whole idea of Yoga. But I knew I would never be satisfied with the traditional Western medical approach and relying upon pharmaceuticals that just masked the problem. There had to be a better solution. I was determined to find and understand it.
At that time, Yoga had not reached the mainstream status it has today. It was still on the edge of being a taboo subject. It brought up images of Grateful Dead groupies and Hippies to most. It was not an accepted activity for someone from lower-middle class suburbia. Was it? Regardless of societal views, I was deeply fascinated and drawn towards it. I wanted to understand more, even though my first experience was not positive. I kept searching and eventually found what I call a true Yoga studio. One that only taught Yoga. That’s it. Nothing else. It was not a add-on activity in the aerobics room at the back corner of the building. The instructor was incredibly knowledgeable in anatomy and human movement. She explained the mechanics of the poses along with their benefits to the body. She was curious and inquisitive about my pain and methodical about giving instruction to work around my discomfort, not powering through it. And the stories. The philosophical side of Yoga was like nothing I had experienced before. The accuracy and truth they held constantly amazed me. It was like my Yoga teacher was able to read my mind. How did she know I felt that way? What else does she know about me? I always listened intently and looked forward to pondering those nuggets of wisdom as I drifted into Svasanna at the end of each class. I was hooked.
I soon began noticing not only physical benefits, but small changes in many areas of my life. Daily annoyances did not bother me as much as they used to, unhealthy dietary choices did not have the constant appeal they once had, and overall I had a better outlook on things. Mentally, I was in a better place and it was easier to stay there. Physically, the discomfort began to subside and I began developing an awareness on what my limits were and ways to avoid the activities that triggered the pain in the first place. Over the years as I was learning how to avoid and manage the physical pain in my body, yoga quickly became mainstream and trendy. Some may say a fitness trend for the privileged. Social media now glamorizes those who posses natural flexibility and are able to execute poses that are simply unavailable to the bodies of most of us. They are magnificent to watch. Inspirational, even. But, Yoga is much more than just a physical practice. The true benefits are revealed as a result of, not within the physical practice. Yoga is truly multi-faceted and available to anyone.
There are postures that come easy to me. There are many more that do not. And some that will never be accessible. I accept that, and am ok with it. While I still strive to deepen and improve the physical postures in my practice, I no longer view that as the ultimate goal. My practice has evolved quite a bit since that first class many years ago. It has come and gone over the years, occasionally becoming dormant for periods of time. But the pull has remained. I always return. The yoga mat is the laboratory of my life. The physical poses are simply tools. Tools for building awareness and skills for navigating the challenges of life. Regardless if it is to alleviate pain, improve flexibility, help me deal with big life events, or simply relax and clear my mind, Yoga gives me all of that and much more. Simply put, being on the mat makes me happy. This is why I do Yoga.
Happy Hiking and Namaste!