Sunday, June 8, 2008

Why Do You Do Yoga?

Recently, a former yoga student and, now, current friend quipped, "You're probably the youngest yoga teacher, ever, to go into retirement." At this, I laughed and quipped back, "Giving me plenty of time to come out of retirement!" Truth be told, I have time to come out and go back in again, multiple times, a la basketball legend and one time Washington Wizard Michael Jordan and rapper/master quipster (and husband to Beyonce) Jay-Z, not to mention Roger Clemens- although, come to think of it- let's not mention him.

This is not to suggest that I belong in the same fraternity as these word-class athletes/celebrities; I just couldn't think of any recognizable corporate types (or yoga types, for that matter), who have peek-a-booed in and out of retirement. When was the last time you heard someone make a fuss over an accountant who got bored with golf and fishing and, therefore, rejoined the workforce? Just doesn't have the same appeal, does it?

To date, I've only come out of yoga teaching retirement on a few choice occasions, namely a large benefit class in conjunction with Global Mala and a few private classes, taught for small groups of friends when the mood has hit me, which was the case a couple weekends ago, when I led a collection of om gals through an impromptu practice on a beach-front deck in Maine.

The sequence and timing happened organically, as I found myself largely inspired by our scenic surroundings. Tree pose, for example, takes on a whole new meaning when you are practicing among actual trees, rather than sweaty fellow students crammed into a busy studio, huffing and puffing and ujayi breathing along with the hum of heaters, fans, humidifiers, outside traffic, and more. A yogi outdoors can't help but feel the influence of his/her natural environs. Each downward dog feels more playful if there's an elderly yellow lab lumbering around nearby. A bird of paradise blossoms more readily when given sunshine and fresh air. Eagle pose (shown above) sores more freely on an ocean breeze and appears more spacious from a panoramic view.

From our perch on the deck overlooking an expanse of sparsely populated beach, eagle pose, in particular, seemed like the most natural movement in the world. I recall mentioning to my class of weekend companions that eagles have keen eyesight, providing them the ability to see their prey from far off distances. Then, while holding the posture and staring out at the ocean before us, I stated the following:

We practice yoga in order to see the world more clearly.

I can't imagine that this organically occurring insight was wildly different from anything my friends had heard before, from their respective teachers in New York and London; however, it resonated with them and with me. Ultimately, I do believe that the greatest gift that a yoga practice can give us is the ability to see the world around us through a clear lens, to evaluate challenges with an uncluttered mind and open heart, and continually free ourselves from illusion and ignorance.

And, this makes me wonder . . . Why do you practice yoga?

Obviously, there are no "right" answers. Feel free to offer up the poetic ("To cease the fluctuations of the mind") or the practical ("It's cheaper than therapy"). The reason for this inquiry is two-fold. First, I'm curious, and second, it's a valuable practice to consider why you do what you do. Recognizing why you're inclined to get on your yoga mat will likely enhance your focus, motivation, and flow while you're there.


karen said...

As a teacher as well as a student,I find that I practice yoga as way to do a bit of self exploration. I think thru my day, think thru the things that I am struggling with in my life and try to see how I can find peace with them.

Kat said...

After my first Yoga class 5 years ago I stepped outside the studio, and felt like someone turned the sun dial up and made the world a little brighter. I can't explain it, but I still feel that way after every practice...peaceful and whole.


butterflymama said...

I do yoga for many different reasons - sometimes I do it for my body, sometimes to relax my mind and sometimes I just need to be in a place where I can breathe. But whatever the reasons are that get me to yoga - I always end up leaving the same - refreshed, renewed and ready for a newer version of myself to be explored but with my heart and my mind a little more open than before I walked in.

Anonymous said...

i practice yoga so that b/c it forces me to focus entirely on holding the pose, standing on my head, not succumbing to the pain in my hip, etc. for me, this requires 100% focus. when i am fully focused, i am not thinking of anything else. when i am not thinking of anything else, i finally have created space, and in turn left room for creativity and inspiration to seep in. yoga is often the only chance in the day that allows for that. it is a thought cleanse as much as a physical one.

deep roots said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
elena said...

Hmmm. I practice yoga for lots of different reasons - some I may not even be aware of yet, which is reason enough to continue practice. I do it for the discipline, to give my life some structure and to move into a more grounded place of self awareness. I do it because it makes me a better person and allows me to be selfish for 90 minutes/day and therefore makes it easier to be there for everyone else the rest of the day. Because I love my daughter so, soooooo much that I want to be as healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually) as I possibly can - I want to show her how invested I am in my growth so that she will then have a model to be as invested in her own! <3 <3

deep roots said...

"The soul is always inexorably drawn toward those things that will most reveal its true nature. When we are able to recognize our spiritual impulse for what it truly is and to harness that impulse with discriminating awareness, we will find our way home just as surely as a migrating bird finds its nest."

- by Donna Farhi from Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living

Yoga is me finding my way home.

Anonymous said...

One of the best balance poses is Bird of Paradise. It is one of my favorites. Yoga guru Leeann Carey breaks the pose down in a free yoga video. I thought your readers might like it: