I love yoga. I’d love to come up with a pithy intro as to why, but when I tried to boil it all down, I wrote sentence after sentence only to delete them again. The reality is, I love yoga because yoga shows me how to love myself.
When people ask me what yoga is, I am usually at a loss for an answer to that too. I know yoga has a history, a lengthy genealogy of yogis that dedicated their lives to perfecting each of the eight limbs of yoga, and I know that extensive scientific research has shed light on why yoga works. All that technical stuff is best left to the yogis and scientists, though. The way I see it, when someone decides to do yoga, they are taking the first steps toward having an intimate relationship with themselves, to building a bridge between their mind and their body through their spirit.
Yoga is a personal journey and so has an infinite number of paths. Breathing, meditation, physical practice … the combinations are endless, and timeless. What works at one point in your life may not work in another, and then circles back to work again later on. Take me, for instance. I wasn’t really a big breath gal, preferring to challenge my body through physical poses and let my breath keep up as it could. Then came breast cancer. A funny thing happens when you find yourself short of breath; you pay attention! All of a sudden, it was all about the breath. It was my time. Breast cancer was also the start of my meditation practice. Every day, first for five minutes, then seven minutes, now until I’m ready, until I’ve heard what I need to hear. And so you see, there is no simple answer to what is yoga. It is whatever you need it to be.
Sit in a chair, close your eyes and take a deep breath in, slowly, through your nose, pause, then exhale slowly through your nose. Congratulations! You just did yoga.
I heard someone say once that the difference between prayer and meditation is that prayer is talking to God (the universe, whomever you wish to talk to) and meditation is listening. I like that, although when I meditate I do both. I talk to the universe, and then I listen for what the universe has to tell me. It is subtle, but it is there, if you pay attention. It has also helped me to pay attention to and appreciate other things in my life. For instance, several weeks ago we had a 90th birthday party for my mother. Wow! 90 years old! Right?! She is still with me, as vibrant and amazing as ever. What a blessing! The room was packed with 100 family members and friends. Our family binds together five family trees and four generations. With friends and family members from 4 months old to 97 years old, my mother’s life is rich, and so is mine. I saw people I had not seen for 40 years. It is mind boggling, the great gift of family she has, that I have. Think about it the next time you are with family or friends. Forget about the minutia of negativity that usually peppers these gatherings and take a step back and absorb the gift of friendship and family that enrich your life. Pretty cool, right? Your family or circle of friends doesn’t have to be as large as my mother’s, maybe it is just a handful strong. It is yours though, and you are blessed by it.
I wake up every morning with more aches and pains than a person my age should have. My bones creak under the strain of staying healthy, staying dense, as my anti-hormone pills leach at them. I am slower, much slower, to get going in the morning, to work out the kinks, to claim my spot on my yoga mat. Some days I opt for restorative yoga (fancy way of saying stretching), a gentle warm-up to my day. I take it day-by-day, feeling my way through this new chapter of my yoga journey. The universe says it’s okay, this new subroutine of wait-and-see. The old me wants to forge ahead and work through the pain, but the new me says wait and see. I am taking a page from my husband’s playbook, his tortoise-like approach to life, where slow-and-steady wins the race. Who knows, maybe you can teach an old hare new tricks. I will wait and see.
Yes, there is magic in down dog. It is awkward, uncomfortable and physically, mentally and spiritually challenging. I can remember when I was new to yoga, when downward facing dog felt like torture. Eventually the body yields, the mind softens, the spirit steps in and down dog falls into place. It is an amazing feeling, to finally melt into a space that feels utterly familiar, yet you don’t know why or when. It is the magic of down dog. It is the magic of yoga.
Give yoga a try. There are dozens of kinds, each have a different flavor, a different feeling in the body and mind. If you go to one studio and don’t care for it, go somewhere else. If it irritates you, that’s a different story, then you are probably right where you belong (yoga has a way of working out your emotional kinks along with your physical ones). Here is a link that briefly explains the different types of physical yoga practices. The most common are Hatha, Vinyasa and Bikram (hot yoga). If you have trouble getting up and down off the floor, there is chair yoga. Lately the trend is to do all kinds of yoga in heated rooms, so be sure to ask about that if sweating profusely is not your thing. If you prefer to practice in the privacy of your own home, the Down Dog app is excellent. You can choose your pace, the length of time you want to practice, the kind of practice and even select special areas to work on. I started out doing twelve minutes a day. Anyone can muddle through twelve minutes, right? Now I’m up to thirty-five minutes and I’m having a blast, aches and pains and all.
For the record, down dog still sucks, but less than before. It’s not magical again, yet …