Why do we practice yoga?
As anyone who has pondered this question will know, there are many answers which will vary from person to person and change over time. Common and widely accepted reasons are: Stress management, bodily health, relaxation, building strength & flexibility or supporting another activity such as running or climbing. Some may seek the goals of classical yoga: liberation or enlightenment, although this is unlikely in beginners! Whilst these are all good reasons, I’d like to try to give a more personal and experiential answer:
Like most people who practice regularly I have many reasons to do so, but near the top of the list has to be the way yoga practice can cut through the random thoughts that cycle round in my head; I call this ‘mental fog’, it could also be referred to as repetitive thought patterns or, according to Yoga: fluctuations of the mind (chitta vriti). This is significant for me in that it allows access to a different way of being and a more connected experience. Here’s an example:
It’s quarter to six in the morning and I’m just starting my asana practice. At first, I’m stiff and cold (the central heating hasn’t kicked in yet). After a while my body starts to warm & open up so things get a little easier. However, the next obstacle/ observation is the emergence of doubting thoughts: “why the hell am I not in bed?” and “why does my back/ thigh etc. feel sensitive? I swiftly put these aside and carry on.
Another 15 minutes in and my focus on breath and drishti (gaze) improve. These types of thoughts subside, and things get a little quieter up there (now we’re really homing in on why I practice!). After a few minutes I hear light footsteps upstairs and immediately think “oh no! the kids are awake, bang goes my practice! (Queue the mental moaning and groaning)”.
Another 10 minutes slide past without the anticipated interruption occurring; by now I’m flowing through the primary series seated poses and my internal dialogue has started to slow further. There’s just an occasional “another jump back? Really? Phew this is tough… my knee feels funny today” from time to time.
A little later I suddenly realise that I’m enjoying myself, the previous worry about being interrupted has fallen aside as I become more present and increasingly free from unruly thoughts. Next thing I know, my son peeps round the kitchen door, walks over and quietly curls up in my lap as I sit cross legged, post jump through, on the mat. It occurs to me to ask him how he feels, and he says “great” and instead of being frustrated or angry at being interrupted, I say “me too” and we sit there for a few minutes quietly smiling.
This is my yoga.