Thursday, March 19, 2015

WHAT YOGA IS NOT

I primarily get two responses when people find out I am a certified yoga instructor:

"Cool, can you stand on your head?" and "I can't do yoga because I'm not flexible."

To which I usually reply, "Yes, I can stand on my head, but that isn't the essence of yoga," and "You can breathe, right? Then you, too, can do yoga."

But more on that in a minute.

I want to debunk some myths about yoga first.

Why?

Because amid all the frenzy about yoga, amid all the talk about the benefits, and amid all the debate about whether it should be illegal -- yes, you read right, illegal -- for women to wear yoga pants in public, there's a little bit of stigma hanging in the ether.

Is it a cult?

What is it teaching?

What, at the root of it all, does yoga really mean?

Well, let's start with what yoga isn't.

Myth #1: Yoga is a religion.

No, it isn't. Yoga has no gods to worship or services to attend, no institutional structure or leaders, no statement of religious beliefs, and there is no profession of faith. 

Yoga, by definition, means to “yoke” or to unite the body and mind in harmony. 

Yoga, as a practice, seeks to correlate all aspects of living as it relates to those around us. This union is accomplished through physical postures, relaxation, and meditation.

What yoga does have at its core, however, are the Yamas and the Niyamas. These are the moral and internal restraints that regulate our inner lives. 

The Yamas are the moral virtues that, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society. The five Yamas are non-violence, truth, not stealing, moderation, and non-greed or hoarding or to take only what is necessary.

The Niyamas are personal observances. They refer to an attitude that we adopt for ourselves to live soulfully and joyfully no matter our circumstances. The Niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, disciplined use of our energy (keeping our bodies fit and healthy), self-study or self-reflection, and surrender to a higher power.

That last bit about a higher power refers to whatever God you may already believe in.

And even if you aren't religious, you can still practice yoga.

One of the best explanations (I think, anyway) of the last Niyama comes from mindbodygreen.com:

"Surrendering to a God of sorts is like softening to the universal. One does not need to forsake your individual self, just soften it, paying homage to the universal, acknowledging how we are all connected, biologically, chemically and atomically! When we soften our individual self and open a part of ourself to the universal, we become more open, more connected to everyone and everything. In this place, what we call love has the opportunity to root and spread it's pollen wide and afar." 

And that, in a nutshell, is why people think of us yogis as hippies.

Well, that and our penchant for crossbody handbags and quinoa -- neither is required, by the way.

Now let's move along.

Myth #2: Yoga is expensive.

Sure, there are classes and retreats that can cost more than a monthly mortgage, but attending said practices is in no way necessary. Not only do many studios offer free community classes, Amazon.com is chock full of yoga DVDs – new and used – for less than ten bucks. (My favorite is Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Energy, by the way.)

But I’ve found that my favorite way to practice is in the confines of my own home. And while props can come in handy (i.e. blocks, bolsters, straps, etc.) during your practice, they are not mandatory.

Here’s what you need to practice yoga: A mat. That’s basically it. And even that is optional depending on your flooring.

Myth #3: You have to be flexible to do yoga.

That's bullcrap.

Yoga is for small and big people; short and tall people; young and old people; women and men.

In other words, yoga is – quite literally – for every body.

Quick story: Long before I became an instructor, back when I was in college and still a yoga newbie, I used to pore over the pages of Yoga Journal magazine and admire all of the accomplished instructors and world-renowned yogis who were striking intermediate and advanced poses.

I got swept up in the beauty of it all.

But sixteen years later, I would discover what is truly beautiful.

When one of my students, who is old enough to be my grandmother, is so dedicated to her practice that she attends class no matter what – and when the time comes to do Warrior II pose, her breath is calm and even, and she is standing taller than anyone else in the room.

That is beautiful.

When another student is able to find peace and comfort in Mountain pose after sitting hunched over at a desk all day.

That is beautiful.

And when a yogi decides that today is the day that she will conquer her fear and attempt Shoulder Stand pose, does it, and then cries after the class erupts in applause.

That, my friend, is beautiful.

So all together now: You DON'T have to be flexible to do yoga!

If you can draw breath, you can do yoga.

And you can do it beautifully.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now that I've resumed teaching yoga following the longest maternity leave known to man, I'll be blogging about yoga more and more.

I hope you'll join me on the mat.

And if you're still a little gun-shy about establishing your own practice, no worries.

You're still welcome here.

In the meantime, if you have any questions for me about yoga, please leave them in the comments section below -- I'll be sure to respond. 



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8 comments:

  1. Great share Courtney! I wish we were closer so we can practice Yoga together:). It's one of the best things I've added to my life.

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    1. Hi, Mari! Thanks so much; and likewise! I would LOVE for you to come to one of my classes -- or, we could just practice together, if you lived closer. Maybe when we meet up one day?

      Yoga is such a gift. One that keeps on giving, at that.

      Namaste -- and thank you for reading and commenting. :-)

      xo

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  2. I've always been curious about yoga! One of the other bloggers I follow (Kitchen Serf) does it and I love reading her posts about it. I even incorporate a few poses in my cooldown when I bellydance. This is a great post for helping people feel more comfortable with trying it out. Love it! Maybe I will pick up a DVD and try it out again.

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    1. Hi, Katie! Welcome -- and thank you for not only taking a moment to read, but also to comment. Totally off topic, here, but I hosted a playdate this morning for one of my closest mom friends and her two children ( who both play with my children) and she was telling me about how she has resumed her bellydancing classes again -- and how much she loved how her body felt!

      Okay. Sorry. Back to topic.

      Thank you for your kind words about this post, and please do pick up the Rodney Yee DVD I mentioned above -- I bought mine used on Amazon for cheap!

      Namaste.

      xo

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  3. Wait, cross body bags aren't required?! ;) (I've been doing it wrong!) I had to laugh at the "I can't do it because I'm not flexible" comment. :) Because isn't part of the point of yoga to move your body which in turn limbers you up and you become, uh, more flexible?

    Great piece, loved it. :)

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    1. Hey, Dakota! Wanna hear something even more ironic? While, yes, moving the body is a huge component of yoga, the ultimate "point" is to achieve a calm mind, which is the end result of the movement. (Yoga = "Citta Vritti Nirodha" in Sanskrit; look it up, if you're interested in learning more about yoga on a much deeper level; it's from the Yoga Sutras.)

      And since very few of us have a mind that is completely still -- I, for one, have yet to experience such splendor -- that alone should make everyone want to at least give yoga a shot -- regardless of physical flexibility!

      But, I get why people use the "I'm not flexible" line: If you don't know about yoga, but yet you are inundated with images of people twisting like Gumby, then, he or she thinks, I can't do that!

      One of my goals as an instructor -- as my students can attest -- is for everyone to see that their physical practice is a beautiful one. Period.

      Thanks for commenting.

      xo

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  4. That to be quiet honest is one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of Yoga that I have read in a while. I am by no means an advanced student at it, and have never attended a class. My BBF is an instructor and she and I practice together on Wednesdays when I am free. Otherwise I practice on my own in the confines of my lofted office, where it is bathed in sunlight and I feel at peace.
    I love to delve into a post and hold it for long moments at a time and really concentrate on my breathing and where my mind is at that moment in time.

    It brings me back to my center, focuses me, and makes me a better person for the day.

    I can't wait to read more about Yoga with you, and follow you on your journey as I take mine as well.

    So excited!!!

    xoxoxo

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    1. Oh, goodie, another yogini!!!!! Yes, I, too, am excited for the journey we set out to take each and every time we unroll our mat!

      Keep up your practice, my friend.

      Let's take this trip together.

      Namaste, and thank you, as always, for commenting.

      <3

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