Yoga, the ancient Hindu practice of linking your breath to your body and the Earth through a series of poses, is one of my favorite forms of exercise. The true goals of yoga is lofty and deep; to prepare the body for meditative positions in order reach a nirvana state; to be aware of one’s thoughts, patterns and behavior. Yoga is metaphoric. A shaking leg or tight muscle represents a fear or resentment. You don’t have to realize the body, mind and soul are intrinsically linked to practice yoga, but practicing yoga will help you see how they are. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” meaning to yoke or unite.
The thing I like most about yoga is that if all of that does not resonate with you, it’s okay, and here is why: yoga allows you to come to it at any time, in any state. Your practice is between you and you only. The nature of yoga is to allow for modifications to meet you wherever your mind, body or spirit is at that time.
The physical benefits are just as prominent as the spiritual and meditative aspects of practicing yoga. The majority of yoga poses can be modified to increase or decrease the physical challenge, based on where you are with your body at that time in your life. If you are in prime shape, and your body needs a deep, intense workout, yoga can provide that. If you are in a place of pain or injury and need a restorative, nurturing experience, yoga can provide that, too. In fact, the same class can provide different things for different individuals, based on modifications and each body taking what it needs.
My friend Mary introduced me to yoga when I was twenty-three years old. We pushed our coffee table to the side of our South Philly living room and put on a 45 minute yoga DVD. I felt a connection to the energy work of the practice, and appreciated the workout. I was hooked. In the upcoming years, I would practice yoga with varying levels of commitment, but always believing it was a beneficial experience for me. Even if I wasn’t putting it into practice, I believed in its merits. Yoga stays with you. If you are out of practice, the changes that you put into motion from your hour of intention you carry with you as you move along in your life.
Later, after Mary moved to New York, and I mentioned to her I was doing yoga DVD’s. She said, “You have to try a class. It’s another level.” I took her advice, and she was right. The collective energy and being lead by an instructor with the years of practice and dedication, did indeed, bring the class to another level. Plus, classes come with cool touches like hardwood floors, candles and crystal sound bowls everywhere, and sometimes, if you are lucky, a banging soundtrack (there is a class in a Chicago yoga studio that is performed strictly to a hip hop playlist- Om Boy Yoga is the name of the class and it is as cool as it sounds).
A few years after me attending yoga classes on occasion, Mary, who was living in South Florida at the time, told me of the latest level of yoga: “find an outdoor class” she said. I attended my first outdoor class with her, in Florida, in an open-air patio tucked so deep into the everglades that when a thunderstorm started pouring sheets of rain down during the practice, it was hard not to feel like we were all born right in the middle of a jungle.
I’ve done mellow night classes while under the influence of extreme back pain, carrying extra pounds and grieving thoughts of life’s troubles, the class for me was all grounding poses and breaks when I needed it. I’ve done sunshine-filled day classes with handstands and full-forward bending poses, all tan and toned, fit and optimistic. Despite the vast differences in all my hours of practice, the common thread is me practicing yoga. It has all been good. It all helps. Yoga allows, permits, asks, you to come as you are. It will take it it from there. It will meet you more than halfway.
Check out a small beginners class if it is your first time. Start with DVD’s or an on-demand lesson in your living room first if you want. Grab a friend or go solo, yoga really doesn’t mind. Yoga is there, a constant, over 5,000 years old, there for humans, helping them along the path of life, and throwing some magic along the way.