Why We Practice Yoga

Losing weight, getting stronger, increasing flexibility, and decreasing stress are all reasons why many people first step foot onto a yoga mat. Why we stay could be the same reasons, or for some of us, those that are shown the ‘real’ reason yoga exists, because it stills the mind and offers an opportunity to see who and what we really are. Okay, that’s it for the blog post because that’s the role that yoga plays, and if we practice fully, the reason why we do it.

Just kidding (about ending the blog!). There are times that I’ve had a particularly difficult day, and my old habit of wanting to go home and veg-out on the couch speaks loudly in my mind. I can usually call up all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t go to class. I’m tired, it’s late, I’m hungry, I’ll go tomorrow . . . but at that point, what I really need, is to get on the mat. Not only to undo the years of my ego’s habit to procrastinate and take the easy road, but because it is when I step on the mat that I can settle my thoughts.

The asanas arose spontaneously from the gurus that spent their days meditating. Oftentimes, the body would become restless, which made the opportunity for recognition that much more out of reach. By ‘exercising’ the body, it was more likely to sit quietly, relaxed, while the practitioner connected to the breath and the awareness inside.

I find that they still serve this purpose today. After only a few moments of focusing on my breath, my thoughts begin to slow the seemingly ceaseless spinning of all that occurred earlier, and all that might transpire later. Instead of replaying conversations, second-guessing my choices, or wondering if I’d said or done the ‘right’ thing, my awareness settles on air moving in and out through my nose, and I’m able (though I admit it took a little time and effort to ‘train’ the mind) to let go of the spinning thoughts. I know they will still be there later, should I choose to pick them up.

As I move through the postures and listen to the voice of the teacher, there isn’t a chance to make a grocery list or wonder when the class will be over. I’m just there, putting one arm here, one leg there, and breathing. I’ve allowed my mind to take over my asana practice before, and then I fall out of tree pose (for which I’m reminded that falling is part of balancing, though if I’m not making a list, instead I’m just standing and breathing, then I don’t fall out of the pose) or I don’t allow the pose to be fully expressed. It is not for the teacher’s benefit that we work to our edge, but if I don’t, then I know that I’ve just wasted 90 minutes full of moments to be in the present and breathe. I’ve done it both ways, and have decided to let go of the habit that takes me off my mat mentally. I find it more stilling (the purpose of yoga) to be in the moment, allow the pose to arise how it will, work to my edge, and see if anything will be revealed to me. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

It becomes easier, with the guidance of a skilled teacher, to experiment with the teachings of yoga on the mat. The true test, though, is to take it off the mat to our work, relationships, living arrangement, and even standing in line. I wrote earlier that on difficult days I find many reasons why I shouldn’t attend class. I do take the practice off my mat and apply it to other areas of my life. It has helped me find some peace and contentment where before, there was none. But I find that I need to go to class because sometimes I forget.

As I listen to the instructions of the teacher and their reminders about how we sabotage our own happiness, I sometimes smile on the inside. How did they know that I needed to be reminded of that? Because we all do. We are forgetful creatures (thanks, Caroline!) and need to be refreshed on why we return to this practice. Sure, we all like the better balance, the stronger body and all those benefits that keep us healthier. But without a little settling in the mind, a glimpse of the recognition of who we really are, and then the subsequent stepping away from all that the ego strongly tells us we need to engage in, our lives will continue to be a whirling mess of stories and judgements and criticisms that probably have not served us very well.

So we come the mat, to this practice to gain physical differences, tangible changes that we can ‘see’ in the mirror or compare with how our performance was a week or a month ago. For some of us, we stay because the practice teaches tools and techniques to detach from the ramblings of the monkey mind and uncover the peace that is already within us. During my teacher training, I recorded my thoughts as they turned from yoga as ‘exercise’ to yoga as a way of life. You can view three of the poems at my web site www.myjoyenterprises.com or you can order the poem project, Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation Volume I. Leave a comment of your journey, or how your practice serves you, instead of you serving the ego.