Why yoga is not what you think it is

Just now, as I was driving home from teaching my Vinyasa Flow yoga class, I was marveling at the “yoga high” that I and my students experienced and some of the open hearted conversations that came from it. It lead me to think about the (multiple) benefit(s) of yoga and how and why it began. As a good English major and journalism minor University graduate (should University be capitalized? ;), I wanted to do a bit of yoga history research to back up my idea for this blog. What I found was VERY interesting and my intention for this post went from “yoga was created to exercise and move the bodies of early Indian philosophical scholars, perfect for our mostly sedentary society today” to “the yoga that we know today looks NOTHING like what those early Indians started thousands of years ago and in fact, they probably wouldn’t even recognize what we do as yoga!”

The asana (the physical poses of yoga) practice that we do in yoga classes today was a minuscule part of early yoga. The 15th century book Hatha Yoga Pradipika outlines 15 yoga asana poses. That’s all: 15! The asana practice we know today was nearly never the focus for early students and it looked nothing like what we do now. Today’s yoga was developed from a melting-pot mixture of a 19th-century Scandinavian gymnastics program that served as the foundation for physical training in armies, navies, and schools, the 20th-century Danish system called Primitive Gymnastics, the desire of the early 20th century world, and India in particular, to gain national independence and in their minds this equated to stronger bodies in case a war broke out against colonizers, and a man named T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) who created a dynamic asana practice, intended mainly for India’s kids, that was a blend of hatha yoga, wrestling exercises, and modern Western gymnastic movement.

The yoga we know today is unlike anything ever seen before in (yoga) history; it’s a complete hybrid of tradition and innovation that demonstrates a God who cares deeply about (all) people and desperately wants to invade our everyday life. Yoga began with a focus on pranayama (breathing practices), dharana (mental strengthening), and nada (sound), and did not have many health or fitness aspects. The “yoga high” that I was referring to from this morning’s class, is a physical manifestation of the Great Spirit invading our physical beings. We are triune beings and as we continue to erase the lines between our body, mind, and spirit and put our full-self into purposeful activity (life), our experiences on plant earth will match our heavenly reality all the more. What a “high” it is.

If you want to read more about the history of yoga check out: http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2610

Namaste!

What is my heart for my yoga classes and my students?

Image

I have had people ask ‘What are your yoga classes like? What is your vision? What makes you different?’ These have been great questions for me to think about and work on formulating into understandable points, not only for others but for myself. As with all instructors, I have a particular style and way of teaching but there is power in knowing where you are, right here, right now. It allows for assessment and thus helps direct the future, it lines up like-minded and passionate people, and gives a person confidence and/or fuel for change. I teach and lead my students in this activity in my classes, now, it’s time for me to do the same.

My heart is for people to walk away from my classes more than just strengthened. My hope is that my students also walk away different: more relaxed, peaceful, while at the same time stronger and more confident. I want my students to feel and be equipped, more able to face life and decisions, confident yet humble, restful yet strong; a humble and valiant warrior enjoying each moment. I want my students to en-joy life, no matter the circumstances! In my flow classes we open and build up to more complex poses while I encourage and adjust them as necessary. We take breaks after difficult poses because I want them to regain the deep breathing if they lost it; I want them to visualize themselves strong, confident, and joyful in the pose again; I want them to check in with their body’s to see if they are pushing themselves too far, or not far enough. I have my students take a moment or two to recover because in life we do that each and every night we go to sleep. Our muscles (including our brain!) cannot repair, rebuild, or grow stronger if we do not take a break. Most people I come across don’t have a problem barreling and pushing through poses or asanas or even life for that matter and comparing themselves with their neighbor in a “I want to keep up with the Joneses” sort of way. Most people need to actually stop comparing and listen to what the Creator is whispering to them through their body, their mind, and their spirit. I create and allow space for this in my yoga classes. I allow time to reflect, in a safe and peaceful place, as I encourage my students into trying new things that deep down they may not believe they can actually accomplish. Most people I come across don’t believe in themselves and feel quite hopeless in one area or another. It is my passion to change that and I get to every time I teach a yoga class.

How do I do this? For starters, I have had to work on believing in myself, believing in a powerful, loving, and joyful God that wants to see all people live full and happy lives, trusting that I have what it takes, and stepping out, over and over again, even if I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. In my classes, I do this through the encouragement of smiles in hard poses, deep breathes in twists and holds, and steady but soft gazes in balance asanas. I allow time for my students to visualize themselves in poses that they want to master, imagining what they smell, how they feel, what their body is doing, what the mat or SUP board feels like under their feet, hands, belly, etc. I am a teacher and as such it is my responsibility to create an atmosphere of practical application of principles that most of us have heard for years. My yoga classes are where you can put theory into practice and have some fun doing it!

Thankfully time and time again I hear my students say that this is what they receive. It’s encouraging to me that I am making a difference through something that some would say is inconsequential: a yoga or SUP yoga class. I hope you can experience this for yourself too, whether it be in one of my classes or not: a peaceful strength as you courageously live this life fully alive, joyful, present, strong. May my life be a challenge and example of what is possible to those who believe and may the world never be the same because of it, practically through your life, your neighbor’s, and mine.

Namaste!