Yoga is Freedom–On and Off the Mat
One of the most beautiful things about yoga is there is a yoga for every body. No matter how old or young you are, no matter what size you are, or your physical ability–there is a yoga for you. In fact, yoga is not as much about physical movement as it is about your mind and heart. The definition according to the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali is yoga is the “calming of the fluctuation of the mind.” This happens when you get your body on a yoga mat (or even in a chair) and you bring your attention to the sensations of the body and your breath. Returning your attention to something other than the relentless stream of thoughts in your head results in peace, joy, and silence—or I call it FREEDOM.
Most of the time people are living in their heads. Thinking, thinking, thinking. And the thoughts are generally a repetition of patterns that fall into the categories of worry, planning, criticizing/judging, wanting, not wanting, etc. These thoughts aren’t facts. They are just ways we have conditioned the brain to respond to life and often lead to suffering. However, when you bring your attention to the movement in the body and the associated sensations as well as the breath you are taking the attention away from these thoughts and on to something more real. Your body and your breath are in the present moment. The sensations are in constant flux. You are moving with the energy of life.
Here are the steps to freedom from the discursive mind:
Show Up on the Mat (or the Chair):
Showing up is the first step to freedom. You must be present to win! It can be helpful to put your yoga practice on your calendar, whether it is a scheduled group class or a time you spend alone at home. Your well-being is as important as anything else you do. Everything that you think is a priority gets written in your calendar. Put yoga there too.
Set Your Intention:
You can set any intention you want, of course, for a quality of being that you would like to encourage, such as kindness, patience, trust, and faith. And, in yoga, we also set the intention to show up in each moment with the changing sensations of breath, the pauses between the breaths and between the poses, and to the pose itself. We set the intention to move in a way that is kind—asking ourselves “what is enough?” so that we don’t overdo or push too hard. Injuring yourself is not the goal. In fact, “no pain, no pain” is my motto in yoga. I recommend going to 75% of the stretch—not 100% or more.
Who you are shows up on the yoga mat. It is like a little mini version of your life. If you push too hard in the rest of your life, you will find yourself pushing too hard on the yoga mat. If you are distracted, worried, restless, etc., these conditions will follow you onto the mat. What you are then able to do is work at bringing your attention to the body and the breath and this reduces the hold that these patterns have on you. THIS is the work of yoga. By increasing your awareness, attentiveness, and discernment on the mat, you are developing new pathways in your brain to a life untethered from the discursive mind. What you will find is a growing peace and stillness. A slight smile might start to grow on your face.
Take It Into Your Life:
Once off the mat, you can continue to practice your yoga throughout the day. You don’t have to be on a yoga mat to practice yoga. You can catch yourself being lost in thought and bring your attention back to what is actually happening in your life. Where are you, what are the sensations in your body telling you, how is the quality of the breath, what is most important and skillful right now? Without judgment, you can navigate the moments of your life with greater clarity and compassion.
Keep Coming Back:
Of course, yoga is a practice. The more you practice, the better you get at it. You can’t practice one time (or even once a week) and expect huge results. You don’t even have to practice for a long time, but regular, daily practice will help you reap possible benefits. If you can’t do an hour, do a few poses each day. You can do them to start the day off right or sprinkle them throughout the day when the body needs a bit of stretch. I often get people in my zoom classes to stop and breathe and reach for the sky.
If you are just doing yoga for physical activity, that’s okay. But, you could be getting a lot more from your practice. Not all classes are the same. Look around for a class that helps you grow in body, mind, and heart and feel the difference in your entire approach to life.
Here in Columbia, I teach an Energy Medicine Yoga class on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and a Kripalu Yoga class on Fridays at 4:30 p.m. Both classes are at alleyCat Yoga Center. Check out the schedule for all of the classes we have available.