Yoga is becoming increasingly popular across the world, and now the word yoga is used for a wide range of closely or loosely-related activities. Many people nowadays say they practice yoga because they go to a class called yoga class and/or they set their bodies into yoga poses. However yoga is a subtle discipline, and Instagram does not reflect what yoga truly is.
Yoga is not defined by what you do, but HOW you do it. Going into an advanced yoga pose may be accessible to a gymnast, a dancer, or even a yoga beginner with great natural flexibility. However, setting your body into a yoga pose does not mean doing yoga. It all depends on how you do it. From the ancient texts and from my own experience, the following key ingredients are essential to “doing yoga”:
- Being focused on the present moment, and gently maintaining this meditative focus throughout your moves
- Being mindful of your breath (inhale, exhale) and using it (lengthening it, deepening it) to go deeper into the pose
- Seeing each pose as an opportunity for self-inquiry – exploration of your body and mind with openess, curiosity, and no preconceived ideas of what you can or cannot do
- Having your attention turned inward: listening to your body (physical sensations, energy…) and adjusting your moves accordingly
- Maintaining a state of kindness and compassion towards yourself: not judging what you can or cannot do, not blaming yourself, and being attentive not to injure your body
Of course you can go to yoga classes and take yoga poses without “doing yoga”. It actually starts like that for most people, including myself. Even without “doing yoga”, you can get the benefits of a physical exercise which makes your body stronger, increases your energy and relaxes you at the same time. That’s already a lot, and more than most other types of physical exercise can offer you.
However, if somewhere along the way you start “doing yoga”, the benefits will be of another dimension alltogether. “Doing yoga” will help you develop capacities which are key to live a happy life – even when your life conditions are upside down.
You will develop a capacity to live more fully in the present moment, to taste every minute of it. You will discover the power of your breath, and how to use it as an anchor when your thoughts or emotions become too turbulent to keep up with. You will increase your resilience to unpleasant sensations or emotions. On a higher level, you will feel a new sense of connectedness within yourself (body-mind-soul), and also an interconnectedness with fellow human beings and nature. It will not be mentalized, it will just be something you feel. Just like with sitted meditation, yoga, which in a way is a moving meditation, will naturally enhance your capacity for compassion and empathy with yourself, and with others. It will allow you to stop being in the self-punishing mode every time you think you did something wrong, and your life will naturally unfold more gently and beautifully.
That’s worth “doing yoga”, isn’t it?