He was a man in his early 60’s who earnestly asked the question. “What is yoga?”
I was doing a presentation for a large accounting firm in Philadelphia. At first, I was not sure if he was serious. Then I felt so happy that he asked. After the presentation, we talked and in fact, he did know what yoga was. His daughter is a very committed yogi. His question was really “What’s all the hoopla about yoga? Why would I try it?”
These days it seems yoga is everywhere. Or at least the images of yoga are everywhere. They are misleading. They are a disservice to those real people who practice yoga and for those who don’t.
What I see all over the media, and even when I search for yoga images for my writing, is that yoga is for young, super thin gumbyish people doing poses that 99% of us could never, ever do. When I see this, I feel sad and frustrated. Many people assume they need to look like that to practice yoga. Or if you practice yoga you will look like that. Neither is true. Both become a barrier to the practice of yoga and what it can offer.
When the man asked the question, we had just talked about Mindfulness and done a mindfulness meditation. It was a 7-minute meditation, and when I asked who had wished we had gone for a bit longer in the meditation, no one raised their hand. I asked who had felt a bit tortured. Several people raised their hand. Many nodded.
Mindfulness is about training our attention by using sitting meditation, with a focus on the breath, as the practice to do this. For some people, however, it is just too had to sit still. Our bodies get filled with anxious energy and we need some movement to dissipate this energy. Why not just go for a walk or run?
The beauty of yoga, beyond many other forms of movement or exercise is that it is a two-for-one. We are moving the body but also matching the movement with the breath, cultivating attention to those and linking mind and body. Yoga is not about handstands, backbends or flashy yoga attire. It’s about reconnecting and paying attention— to yourself, to practice self-care and self love. That can seem scary, especially if there is a big nasty judge in your heads ready to start the litany of criticisms the second you get started. (We are all one of those!) Often that judge is already at work even before you get to the mat. Yours may even be keeping you from exploring what yoga might have for you.
The practice of yoga is that. It is noticing that judge, saying, “thanks for your opinion” and then rolling out your mat (and you don’t even need a mat!) in the privacy of your home to see what your body needs and to find what feels good. Yes, yoga feels good.
Lie there, breathe, imagine for a few minutes you are that uninhibited child that you once were. Stop and listen to your body. Get curious. When the judge wants to pop back in, (mine can be more annoying than Judge Judy sometimes) say, “No thanks, I’m busy playing.” Yes, play. Yes, you.
Put on music you love. Move when you feel something asking to be moved. You, at whatever age, whatever flexibility, whatever clothes, can find this practice of yoga. She is a beautiful friend when you give her a chance.
Breath. Feel what you feel. Move your body as if you were the most precious being that ever lived. Imagine you are a beautiful dancer. You are.
Go slow. Be in that moment, fully. That is yoga.