January 25, 2021

Beyond the Poses: What Does Yoga Mean to You?

I remember attending my first yoga class at the YMCA in my small college town.

At the time, I had a full load of classes, was working multiple jobs, and oftentimes, was feeling incredibly lonely, although I was surrounded by other people.

While I do not recall the teacher’s name or the poses of that day, I do know the feeling after my first savasana—a brief moment of stillness in my otherwise ever-flowing mind. Did I become one with myself in that moment? Absolutely not.

That said, it did pique my curiosity and kept me coming back week after week in hopes of, once again, capturing that feeling of quiet magic I found on my mat the first time.

What is yoga?

Ask 100 people and you get 100 unique responses. There are infinite answers to this question, as one may expect from a practice that was developed well over 5,000 years ago. Below, are several interpretations that have, in some way, captured the essence of what yoga is for me:

“The word Yoga describes both a state of purified perception and the practices associated with attaining this clear way of seeing. The two meanings of the word give us some insight into the intimate link between the effort required to attain understanding and the imminence of realizing that which is already present within us.” ~ Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi

“Yoga is a method of self-inquiry and self-discovery. It is a way to make peace with being human, self-forgiveness and acceptance of others because they are as lost and fearful as you. Using the body as the way into further self-inquiry.” ~ Tricia Fiske, 500 E-RYT, level 3 ParaYoga Instructor

“Yoga is connection. It is a practice that invites you to connect more deeply with yourself and from there with the world around you. For many it might only be about practicing the physical poses and that is great. Connecting with the body and the breath is a gateway for a more meaningful connection to the mind and spirit.” ~ Rebecca Stiles, 500 CYT

For me, in this moment, I am working on the idea that yoga is both a practice and a way of life. 

After a lifetime of living as a perfectionist, both on and off my mat, and a lot of hard work—therapy, journaling, and getting real with myself—I am finally beginning to unwind from the need to be perfect and I’m getting comfortable with cultivating a practice where there is no finish line.

With this broad concept in mind, the following are all part of my current yoga truth:

Being a practice, failing is a key element in being successful.

In the past, I owned my perfectionism as a badge of honour, but now, I see how it only holds me back. In the HBR article, Perfectionism is Increasing and That’s Not Good News, authors Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill shared that “the energy behind perfectionism comes largely from a desire to avoid failure.” This is all well and good, until you remember that you are human, and therefore, failing is part of the deal. By striving to release my tendency toward perfection, I am no longer setting myself up to lose before I begin—and there is real power in that.

There is no yoga box that I need to fit into.

I’ll do me; you do you. I currently teach Yoga Sculpt fitness classes at CorePower Yoga, and I absolutely love it. Think loud music, push-ups, lots of reps with weights, cardio, and more—all using a yoga vinyasa flow to facilitate the movements. On the flip side, as I worked through my 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) certification and immersed myself wholeheartedly into the philosophy and teachings of the broader definition of yoga, I struggled a bit with loving both.

Can I be a real yogi and, at the same time, teach this fitness classes? The short answer: yes, I absolutely can.

I get to choose how I incorporate yoga (and anything else for that matter) into my life, and I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. While it can still be easy to forget to do this when faced with others’ negative judgements, the power that comes from choosing what is right for me makes it worth it. Every. Single. Time.

Yoga is so much more than an asana.

In the western world in which we live, there is a lot of emphasis on asana, or the physical practice of yoga. Not surprisingly, a significant number of students are drawn to their mat for the first time for this very reason (including me).

That said, for the yoga-curious, there is so much more to explore in this holistic, life philosophy: from the eight limbs of yoga shared hundreds of years ago in the Yoga Sutras offering structure and guidance for living a purposeful life, to the beauty and origin of the ancient language of Sanskrit, to all the ways one can deepen his or her mind, body, spirit connection through a mindful practice, and so much more. The lovely part is that whatever ways you choose to incorporate yoga into your own life is up to you. It does not need to look any specific way—take what you need and leave the rest. And always continue to evolve, learn, and grow.

In her book, Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, Donna Farhi shares the following quote on what yoga can offer us:

“Practicing yoga does not eliminate life’s challenges, and neither does it provide us with a convenient trapdoor to escape from life’s distractions. Instead, yoga gives us the skills to meet life head-on with dignity and poise.”

How lovely to think that through mindful practice, both on my mat and off, I am building resilience and strengthening my ability to face all the beauty and challenges that life will inevitably send my way.

So, back to that savasana and finding quiet magic on my mat all those years ago. Now that I have evolved my personal practice and knowledge of yoga, you may wonder if peaceful bliss is easy to find when I settle into corpse pose at the end of my practice?

Not necessarily.

That said, I now see each savasana as an opportunity to practice serenity. I choose to focus on cherishing each moment I get to spend on my mat and savoring each bit of stillness I can find, no matter how brief. And the best part? Regardless of where I am at today, I know I always have tomorrow to come back to my practice and begin again.

What does yoga mean to you right now? How has it changed for you over time? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share your experience in the comments below.


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