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!

Instructing people who practice yoga

What an incredible day it is here in Redding! It’s perfectly sunny and 75 degrees, and it’s November 13th. I’m sitting in my backyard with a cup of jasmine green tea (organic, free trade, and non-chlorine bleached paper tea bags, of course, from Numi), overlooking the pool, and the open space park that backs up against it. I know, it sounds all incredibly glamorous, being that I am in California and all, but there are real, non-glamorous things here as well (a black tarp along the fence rustling in the wind, the random pool toys littered about, the knocked over flower pot, the large burn pile of yard debris, leaves all over, the pool lining tearing, etc), but like ALL of life, I choose to look at the positive, and celebrate it. All of course, without ignoring the things that need to be changed, cleaned up, worked on, etc.

I have been teaching yoga now for 3 years! I can hardly believe it really. It was this month 3 years ago that I was asked by my pastor to lead my 25 person ministry team through a daily yoga practice while we were working with a church in Madrid, Spain. Wow. What a life changing trip, on so many levels. I had no idea it would lead me to where I am today, nor that I would fall more and more in love with yoga.

I taught one of my land yoga classes this morning and was talking with one of my students after class about his desire to teach. He used to coach sports and has some old injuries that make some poses and transitions very difficult or impossible. I asked him why he wanted to teach and heard a passion that is inspiring. Because of his background and experience he wants to lead, encourage, and inspire more men (and women) into the health benefits of yoga and knows that he can in a way that is unique and different than other instructors. It was a really great conversation and helps me remember why I started and show me how far I have grown and changed.

One of the struggles I have had as an instructor was the feeling that I needed to address everyone’s concern, everyone’s injury, everyone’s goals, and everyone’s problems. As I have gained experience, I have realized that I cannot, AND, I am ok with that. It is much like me looking at this yard: there is so much work that needs to be done here, but wow, it is still so beautiful, right now! It’s about trusting and believing that I am doing the best I can, keeping people’s best into consideration, of course, but also not taking things personally. It’s really not even about me! I have so enjoyed the practice of yoga for this reason: it has helped me to put into reality (practice), all the nice things that we hear at church, all the inspirational promptings we read in some famous person’s quote, all the incredible feats that we see in someone we admire. Yoga creates the opportunity to practice, in a safe place, so we can then carry this revelation out beyond the studio, or off the paddleboard. What a gift it is.

I pray a lot, as 1 Timothy 5:17 suggests, “Pray without ceasing” and have been striving to live my life as a continuous prayer (after all it is not feasible to be kneeling with hands folded and head bowed 24-7). Yoga has been the biggest vehicle by which I have gained progress in this goal. I pray for people’s lives to be changed and bettered through their interaction with me. I pray for the earth to be as wonderful as heaven (Matthew 6:10, Habakkuk 2:14). I pray for people to be healed. I pray for wisdom personally, locally, nationally, and for us all to take a stand for what is right, regardless of some short term discomfort we may feel. I pray for peace.

May my experience help you to choose the higher path, the better way. I could have easily gotten offended at my yoga student today because he gave me some great constructive criticism, but I chose not to. It’s getting easier each time because I am practicing. Like a physical posture/pose, yoga helps us to mentally grow healthier too. What are you choosing?

Namaste.

Why I practice yoga

I practice yoga because it brings me life, it brings me joy, it brings me peace, and it brings me healing. I practice yoga because it brings freedom.

I often come across naysayers to yoga, for a whole host of reasons, you can probably think of some right now, but the spiritual aspect of yoga is really what makes the whole exercise or practice so alluring for me. I am a Christian and in a world of Buddha and Hindi Goddess statues, I can get a lot of push back from what I am beginning to really understand are my own insecurities, fears, and lies. This is what I love about yoga: it embodies growth not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. Yoga allures and provides an opportunity to reach and obtain heaven on earth, a higher place, and an ecstasy if-you-will, in peace, love, and joy through all three aspects of ourselves: spirit, body, and soul (mind, will, and emotions). It is unlike any other form of exercise or even learning opportunity.

 I began my yoga practice 13 years ago and admittedly have been a weekend warrior for most of that time. I grew up doing gymnastics, cheerleading, and dance, but it was just after college that a friend invited me to a yoga class. That first instructor was so empowering and encouraging, she embodied what I now know yoga, and God, to be about: she planted a seed of hope and exploration that has shaped my practice, and life ever since. I see how my childhood activities prepared me for the physical asanas or poses of yoga, but those can come with regular practice.  We are all born with an innate hunger for the Divine and yoga allows us to explore Him, however inflexible we may be, IF we so choose. The seemingly paradoxical safe-challenge of yoga is unlike any other. It allows for our whole self to explore together thus creating a synergy found nowhere else. For me, yoga has become a transcendental way of growth in the Divine as I explore and now teach others the physical asanas, breathe, mental, and spiritual awareness that is inside a yoga class. Yoga has become a gift, which like God, is never ending and fully good. As with all things the depths of your personal practice is a choice. I like that and it is one more reason I practice yoga.