Yoga and Other Drugs

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what is the meaning of yoga. What does it mean to me, since I am aware that it means different things to each and every one of us. I also watched the documentary ‘Who owns yoga’ by Al Jezeera, which is definitely a must see for everyone interested in the development of yoga and the modern perspectives on it.

This line of thought took me back to basics, so I did some more research on the philosophies behind the yoga practice:

  • The Yamas – they relate to what we should stop doing, in order to live in harmony with ourselves and those around us.
    • Ahimsa – refers to not practicing violence, in words, thoughts or deeds.
    • Satya – is related to always being truthful
    • Asteya – focuses on not stealing; it doesn’t only refer to material items, but also to stealing people’s spotlight, time or energy
    • Brahmacarya – is related to being moderate and controlling our human impulses of excess
    • Aparigraha – instigates to not hoard or possess, cultivate generosity and be helpful and giving towards others
  • The Niyamas – what we commit to ourselves
    • Saucha – being clean. Through the asana practice, the body is purified. More to this, this Niyama relates to eating mindfully and paying attention to what we read or watch
    • Santosha – being contempt with what you have and practicing gratitude
    • Tapahs – discipline and effort. Learning to work hard for your achievements
    • Svadhyaya – studying and loving yourself.
    • Isvara pranidhana – surrender to a higher force, or devotion to your practice. This is related to seeing outside your ego, and spreading love in the universe.

I believe these teachings to be truly beautiful. In a world that values individuality, career prosperity and material possessions, it is refreshing to take a moment and reflect on how we want our path to be. There are many voices out there saying that yoga is much more than asana, and that, as you practice, you cannot help but embrace some of the yoga philosophy. Do you agree?

The above mentioned documentary went from bodybuilders that make their living out of yoga because it’s the trend of this century and an easy source of income, to traditional teachers who still believe that yoga is rooted in hindu thought and that practicing just asana is not yoga. But in the end, who is entitled to define it? I believe we can all attribute our own definitions to it, according to what works for us, and where our personal journey has taken us. I also firmly believe that no one can say what yoga is not. May it be just asana, or may it be practicing while also enjoying a steak or a glass of wine from time to time. And I believe that all those practices the so-called ‘yogis’ have been frowning upon are nevertheless still yoga practices.

So what does yoga mean?

For me, it is balance. Tolerance. Gratitude. Shutting down the ego, when all it would do is harm. Accepting who you are, and who those around you are, and listening to what they can teach you. Silencing the mind when it wants to achieve physical goals (now!) and understanding that many things take practice, and other might never come easy. Appreciating what you have and being happy to be alive, to have a ray of sun caressing your cheek or a warm hug from somebody close. And most of all, remembering who the person you want to be is, and forgiving yourself when you stray away from this idealistic version of yourself. If you are ashamed or sad about your actions, this means you care, you acknowledge, and you learn. Be easier on yourself and try again tomorrow.

What about you? Feel free to share what your yoga practice means for you!

Yoga and Competition

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” (The Bhagavad Gita)

I don’t know about you, but I am a pretty competitive person. I was raised to aim for the best, to try to push limits and do more. I got a secret rush from being better than others, or recognized for my merits. I loved contests and classaments, and would always strive to get higher. Being introduced to yoga, I was on unknown territory, where everything moves slowly and smoothly, and I wasn’t the best anymore.

I felt it’s so challenging, that I could never do it. I hear many people saying they cannot practice yoga, because they are not flexible enough. This is one of the biggest myths about it, since very few of us are. But gradually, through regular practice, flexibility increases. You start out by not being able to touch your toes, and you can end up after a while in a beautiful dancer pose.dancer_pose_yogaYoga teaches you many things. Among others, patience is one of them. You cannot just do everything from the beginning. You need to work your way through poses, learn to listen to your body, understand and respect it. There might be days when your body cannot balance as well as in others, and you shouldn’t force it. It will come back, when you are ready. This is one of the wonders of yoga, and this is what many of us fail to understand. It is more than a “sport”, it is more than a race to be able to do all the cool poses you saw online. You might never be able to do some of them. And that is okay.

My competitive self started by checking out the instructor, and wanting to be like her. She was so flexible, I assumed it just takes more practice, so I pushed myself. I started practicing daily and I was improving. However, I could always discover cooler poses, different girls online holding impossible positions. I started setting goals for myself: “next month I will be able to do the split”. My motivation got shaky when I felt I was not improving anymore as quicky as before, and reaching my goals felt very difficult.

This is when I met an amazing instructor, in a random gym in Seville, Spain. She opened my eyes towards yoga and myself on so many levels, I couldn’t be more grateful. Each of her classes was different, and she took us on inner journeys and introduced us to so many aspects of the practice. I have never met any other instructor like her. She was showing us how to believe in our body and in ourselves and explaining that sometimes we just need to shup up the mind. It is the one that tells us we are afraid or we cannot achieve something. Our body can do much more, if we just believe in it.

Sometimes, when holding a difficult pose, she would encourage us to think about something we are afraid of. To feel it, understand it completely. And then comprehend that we can overcome anything. Yoga is more than a body challenge to reach certain position. It’s discipline, hard work and relaxation. Sometimes it is okay not to achieve something, and other times we just need to be more patient and allow our body to get there. If we listen carefully to our inner self, we will understand our needs better.

serenityThis made me stop looking at others. Not compare myself anymore with instructors, fellow yogis in the class or skilled and flexible ladies on the internet. We all have our inner journeys, we all have our own challenges and limits. What matters is what we learn about ourselves after each practice.

Finally, I learned more about flexibility. I used to wish to be able to do those amazing back bends, and I’m sure you’ve felt like that. However, I read more on the topic and learned that this increased flexibility is more than regular practice and hard work. Some people are just born like that, but others are hypermobile. That might look cool, but can be painful and sometimes dangerous. So I decided to be careful what I wish for, and focus on what my body needs.

The only competition for me is knowing myself and my body more. Not wanting what the others achieve, but treating myself better. Improving whom I was yesterday, not necessarily physically, but emotionally.

“The study of asana is not about mastering the posture. It’s about using posture to understand and transform yourself.” (Gary Kraftsow)