There is so much yoga around these days – every gym, every sports studio, every village hall seems to offer a yoga class and classes differ so much that you can begin to wonder what yoga is? The title ‘Yoga’ doesn’t give any indication of what a class might be like or the style and experience of a particular teacher.
My introduction to yoga almost twenty years ago was a class taught by Derina (Mukunda Priya) of the Dharma Centre -a very mindful, holistic, spiritual experience where I came to realise pretty early on that yoga was more than just physical fitness.
In fact my reason for going to yoga was not for a good workout -I already went to the gym for that – it was the peace of mind, the restorative qualities of yoga- which I valued. I remember being a bit surprised when a couple turned up at Derina’s class one evening and remarked at the end, that it was not physically strong enough for them. I had not really thought of yoga in those terms and I felt they had missed the point.
So is yoga just a physical exercise?
In yoga there is a mind/ body connection so you become less aware of what is going on around you and what other people are doing and you move away from the external to a more inner focus. Movements are done with awareness and breathing is an important link between body and mind. Relaxation is a key part, so instead of contributing to physical and mental tension, this is minimised.
Yoga in my view is less about achieving and external appearance: how we look in a posture for example, but more to do with how a postures feels to us. We can listen to our inner wisdom and become aware of different sensations without judging our selves, so in postures we start to recognise when to ease off or whether to take it a bit further, regardless of what others are doing.
The meditative aspect of yoga is hugely rewarding whether it is meditation in its own right or practising yoga with awareness. Creating physical aspirations without considering the mind and spirit could be seen as dumbing yoga down.
A physical workout has its place and our bodies definitely benefit from stretching and strengthening. However if yoga has no ‘heart’ and is reduced purely to another form of physical fitness, I believe it is impoverished.
I’d love to know what you think.