Why yoga?

I was first drawn to yoga in the 1970s. I can still recall propping open the paperback yoga book in my teenage bedroom, surrounded by posters of Elton John. I worked each posture to the best of my ability. I can’t recall what it was that led me to it. I recognized yoga had health benefits. In addition, it was hip. What I discovered during that first practice stunned me, and to this day I can recall how I felt when I was finished. I felt an intense physical and emotional calmness that was new to me. I found it difficult to describe.

Sometime during those busy teen years, I lost touch with the practice. Decades later I returned to it. The draw this time was to regain that sense of calm and improve my health and wellness. I returned knowing there is scientific research that supports the idea that yoga is beneficial. Among many things, yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance mood and overall sense of well-being, and improve balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. Yoga can also reduce risk factors of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. In addition, it can help alleviate chronic conditions such as depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia.

I was also drawn to the spiritual aspects of yoga. Feeling the connection of my mind, body and spirit (breath) during yoga made me feel whole. I found the ability to recognize and rejoice in tiny increments of change: The type of change that is so small that it is detectable by no one but me. The type of change that is huge in the sense of progression and cause for joy.

The goal of yoga is not the perfection of the postures. It is a way to learn about ourselves. It’s a journey inward. It is a direct and expedient way to journey inward and meet ourselves. When we are in our bodies, we are connected to our instincts, intuitions, feelings and insights. We become aware of openings in the body and mind that allow profound change to occur.

Life’s challenges can seem overwhelming when we look at the big picture. In yoga we learn to divide our experience into incremental breaths. We place our awareness on and take care of only that which arises in each breath. In this way almost any difficulty becomes manageable. We can choose to focus on what we are accomplishing with each breath. Perhaps I notice I can hold my balance longer, or I sense a lessening of tension in my hips, or that I can be OK when in an awkward position. More importantly, I’ve noticed that I am able to put “urgent” matters aside for practice and realize they really are not so urgent after all.

I have been practicing yoga for several years now. It has provided me with flexibility of both my body and mind. I still find it somewhat difficult to describe how it makes me feel. But one thing I know for sure: Life is easier with yoga.

Whether you have a committed practice or are just considering yoga, your experience will be unique to you. Gift yourself with a spirit of openness, as sometimes we are searching for one thing but often find something else.