Find out about what we consider Yoga in the Western World
I am too stiff for Yoga
That's probably one of the most-heard excuses of anybody who cannot be bothered to exercise or feels intimidated by the stunning and acrobatic poses, presented by sexy girls in bikinis on Youtube, Instagram and Co. Even if I do not feel intimidated myself (as I know I'm sexy and bikinis are my working clothes... ;-)), my sympathies are with everybody who gets put off yoga this way.
Making incredible knots with your limbs and even being able to untie them again without help can be a yogic exercise and a very meditative experience indeed. But I suggest: In most cases it's NOT.
What is the difference between Yoga and other exercise?
I think any exercise can be "yogic". It depends on your intention, focus and concentration you put in. Therefore even something I call Yoga might not be so much Yoga as I want it to be.
Mostly, when we're doing sports, it is one particular way of movement, often for one or maybe 2 particular parts of the body. What's our aim? Having a strong, healthy body and looking good, right? While we do our workout, we might listen to music, watch videos or talk to our companions. Our focus is on our physical body, the part that we (and others) can see with the eyes. Our focus is on the outside, on each other. In many sports we compete against each other, compare to find out who is "better" at something. That's a great way to motivate and get much more out of myself than I would be able on my own. And here we come to the difference to a "yoga exercise".
What makes an exercise "Yoga?"
Intention/Focus In Yoga we go on the mat with an intention and a concentration on our inside. Yes, we might get a nice looking body, yet the intention is rather to look "nice on the inside". :-)
Hence the breathing is an important part, as it helps us to focus on where we are and what we. Right now. Right here.
Competition? Oh yes, biiiig time! However it's not really an objective.
We will be hardly able to avoid "competing", comparing ourselves to the other students around us. That's a - maybe not natural but - normal behavior or thought pattern. One of the goals of yoga is to slowly move away from judging ourselves and comparing to others. The yoga mat is a great tool to practice exactly that! These days the online yoga classes help a bit more to get away from looking around, and concentrate on what's going on in ourselves.
"Proper Exercise" as defined in Hatha Yoga has the aim to keep the body and all its functions healthy and in balance
We strengthen the muscles AND make them flexible. We emphasize on the stability and the flexibility of the spine. "The more flexible the spine, the younger you are" is one of the yogic principles. In a typical Hatha Yoga Session you will work yourself through the whole body, traditionally from the head down to the feet. We might put some focus on certain parts, movements or Asanas, but will always incorporate the entire body in some way with forward bends, back bends, twists and a relaxation part.
This is just the first "layer", the obvious one, that we're working on.
Asanas are like a Surprise Egg - we get even more than three things in one go
Liver, Lungs & Co.
The next layer is the one of our internal organs. The heart, lungs, intestines, kidneys, etc. get a good massage, a squeeze, are put under gentle pressure for some moments. Afterwards they receive a flash of fresh blood, oxygen, Prana. And are able to do their job much more easily and with less effort.
Thyroid, Adrenals and all these other glands
These organs are connected to our glands, hence the entire endocrine system receives a workout too. Our endocrine system regulates our metabolism, our breathing, our heart rate, our moods and our emotional state. The triggering with the help of the asanas balance out the hormone production and makes us feel more centered.
Spinning energy wheels - Chakras
Moving even deeper on an energetic level, we influence how the energy in our body flows. Energy blockages, especially in our so-called chakras, that run along our spinal cord, are released. Our brain gets a nice break as the mind calms down from its constant flow of thoughts.
So even if we do not have a yoga mat, if we just love running, swimming or even playing football. We can "do it" in a yogic way. We bring our focus on our inside. Watch our breathing. Become aware what a movement feels like. On a physical level and an emotional level. And bang: We're in yoga. :-)
And what is Asana? An exotic fruit?
Asana is a sanskrit word and actually means "Steady, comfortable pose".
We consciously move into a certain pose. And then become still. This can be a standing pose, a twist, a forward bend, a back bend, and loads of variations of these.
We close our eyes and feel the physical and inner challenge of keeping the pose. We become aware what muscles we're using to keep the pose. And we start realising that we might use a lot of muscles that we actually do not need to hold the pose (e.g. cramping my mandibles, frowning my forehead and clenching my teeth while balancing on one foot...) The thoughts coming up (our inner challenge) is probably more daring. Isn't it all about focus, concentration and presence? Shouldn't I keep it up? Shouldn't I be able to stay? Even if it hurts?
There is always a good reason to say NO to do or NOT to stay in a pose
Our body has the final say if and how to do a pose. It's not our wishful thinking, our desire to master a pose or our ego. It is US, OUR body who decides what is right or wrong. We wanna find the healthy middle course, a moderate way to improve and evolve. Pushing the river doesn't bring us to the ocean faster. However - trying to row more slowly than it flows doesn't work neither...
Yoga teaches us patience,
courage and compassion for ourselves. And we start questioning why we want to achieve the mastery of a pose, why we strive for a certain career, why we want to be with this one person, etc. An ongoing and fascinating challenge begins on the mat and continues off the mat.
Asanas work on the whole body. And prepare for meditation.
Once we have worked through the whole body and all its layers, the mind has not much more to add or to complain about. Then it's a good time to properly rest before... we simply sit down and... just sit. Meditation is easier after a good yoga session. Read more about this in one of the next blog posts.