Today someone asked me something. It blew my mind. So much so that I’ve taken to my blog. Its been a while..blogging.
“Is Yoga actually an exercise? It’s too slow and it’s just stretching.”
Wow, I thought. It took me a moment to just digest the question.
How far removed from the concept of inner wellbeing must we be to be questioning whether a system that integrates breath and movement, body and mind, internal and external, a system that gives us focus, clarity and balance – whether that system is actually an exercise?
I wonder if it is just a symptom of the crazy way we live? Or perhaps our expectations of what exercise should be? A world where we want harder, faster, more, more, more leaves little time for a practice that is slow,gentle and takes many years to show its true benefits. Most people are now so distantly connected to their bodies that they believe that hard core bootcamps and 6 week body transformations are the best way to look after health. Often when people find out I teach or practice Yoga they go straight into asking about “Hot Yoga” or “Power Yoga” or “Yogalates” or whatever. It seems that the simple practice of connecting movement, mind, breath and body is not enough. The newest Western fad is considered more beneficial or exciting perhaps than the ancient practice from India. People have often said to me that if they have an hour to do exercise they would rather spend that time doing something “thats gonna work”. I get that each individual has personal exercise preferences but its this belief that a slow and steady lifetime practice is inferior to modern techniques developed by the fitness industry that really annoys me!
In a culture where we would rather be poked in the eye with a blunt knife than sit alone with our thoughts, is it any wonder we need these props? They are a distraction and help us focus on everything but our deepest selves. In my earlier conversation, there was almost a sense of pride about “being too busy to sit for that long”,”getting bored after 10mins”, “my body just doesn’t want to be that slow”. It’s our societies obsession with speed,acheivement,goals and performance. We are “on” 24 hours a day and we even “boast” about not having time to cook real food, go for walks in nature and even the lack of time to sleep!!
Yoga is more than just exercise. For many it is a way of life that envelops every aspect of body,mind and spirit but for most of us here in the west it is just a form of movement and control that brings us health and wellbeing. Using Yoga as a tool just for physical health, we have stripped away the deeper and more meaningful levels of this amazing practice but if thats our stepping stone towards a greater experience then it is ok.We should always teach and learn yoga knowing “Real Yoga” will never be ours (non-Indians) because its not our culture, our way of living, but we can benefit from many aspects of it in our western culture.
In its simplest form perhaps it is “just slow stretching”. If thats the way you choose to see it then I doubt you will find the magic of yoga at all. Even if you are “just stretching”, if you open your mind a little you will also unlock all the possibilities yoga can bring to your life. Can you handle just YOU and your body? You will be exposed to your weaknesses physically and mentally but even more profoundly, how you deal with those weaknessess. Do you leave the mat and join cross fit instead? Do you make excuses? Do you blame the ineffectiveness of the exercise? Do you get stressed or competitive? Often how you deal with the challenges on the mat is a reflection of how you deal with challenges in your life. The more control and balance you find on the mat, the more equanimity you discover in life.
So,yes yoga is an exercise but it much more. If you allow it, it nourishes you in everyway possible, frees you from limitations and allows you to truly bloom in health and wellbeing.