Yoga isn’t just about flexibility and contortions. It is easy to focus on the improvements of our bodies because it is the most tangible and obvious result of yoga. Oh look, I can finally put my foot behind my head, which may or may not come in handy in other situations.
Yet the physical training is just 1/8th of your yoga practice. In order for practitioners to find true union connecting their minds, bodies, and the universe, they also have to learn how to live their yoga.
Yamas And Niyamas
There is a philosophy behind yoga that directly addresses how we treat others and ourselves. These yamas (how we treat others) and niyamas (how we treat ourselves) are outlined in the yogi sutras, and can serve as a guideline for our behavior.
The yamas direct us to be kind (no violence), tell the truth, not to steal, be respectful, share. The niyamas show how to be pure in both mind and body; practice contentment, do the work, take time to reflect, and don’t be a dick. Just kidding, it is to celebrate the spiritual by accepting all that may challenge us in life.
So these moral codes seem pretty simple, right? If you were to enter any kindergarten class, the teachers would most likely be attempting to instill these same values in the children.
Don’t hit Timmy with a wooden block, don’t lie about eating all the chocolate (especially when there’s chocolate all over your face), don’t take Suzie’s “Hello Kitty” headband, help your friends, wash the boogers off your hands, enjoy story time instead of asking when it’ll be over so you can have cupcakes, go outside and move your body around, think, and appreciate life.
What’s Really Holding You Back
We are taught these things at an early age, yet the irony is that we can spend our entire lives just trying to integrate these ideologies into our existence. I don’t know about you, but I have been to countless yoga classes and witnessed a lot of asshole behavior.
Yeah, maybe the girl next to me is a vegan who only eats conflict-free air particles, but she was super rude when I asked if she could move her mat so I could fit next to her. Sure, that guy in front can do a perfect Scorpion and smells like jasmine sandalwood essence, but he also keeps checking out the teacher’s ass when she is in Uttanasana.
The human flaws that hold us back emotionally are much more integral to our yoga practice than whether or not we can stand on our heads. The physical connection and exertion of class is undeniably beneficial, but what does that matter if that vitality doesn’t penetrate your everyday life?
Bringing Yoga With You Off the Mat
Yoga is not a 90-minute break from who we are just so we can go right back to be being stressed out, distracted, and self-obsessed once we exit the yoga room.
You know that suggestion that teachers often give when you enter class to “leave your troubles at the door?” I agree with the thinking that we don’t need to bring the anxieties of the day into our practice. It is important to allow ourselves to live in the moment.
Yet I also believe we should be reminded to take our yoga with us when we leave. To let that energy flow into our daily reality. Yeah, the actual class you go to may only be a set amount of time, but how long can you extend that vibe? THAT is the real practice - learning how to bring our yoga to the world.