I have done a lot of different kinds of “exercising in my life”; from ballet to jazzercize, from Tai Chi to ultimate frisbee, from Buddhist meditative dance to weightlifting. I have been dabbling in as many kinds of movement as possible since I was a teenager.
The only thing that has stayed constant for me for decades is my practice of yoga. I’ve done yoga more days than not since my early twenties. So, what is it about yoga that is so special?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
We have entered a new era. One where experts from all over the globe are making their expertise available in an online format so that they are consumable from the convenience of your own living room.
When you can choose between yoga, cross fit, Pilates, Peloton, hit class, bar class, aerobics and dance will people still want to study yoga?
If they choose yoga, what kind will they choose?
Between acro-yoga, drunk yoga, goat yoga, dog yoga, glow in the dark yoga, hula-hoop yoga and naked yoga will folks still be drawn to plain old traditional Hatha yoga? With all the flashy trends, is there an enduring demand for slow therapeutic yoga?
In the world of limitless exercise possibilities, I’m here to make the case for why plain old, traditional Hatha yoga is still one of the best options out there.
Yoga can be thought of as a technology that was developed to help people expand their potential to evolve as individuals living in a human body who also believe that they are connected to something greater than the simple physical world around them.
Read that statement again.
It was not created for balance, flexibility, or strength. It was developed to support individual human potential.
Yoga has been around for between 5,000 and 10,000 years. It has evolved and changed over time. Different lineages have emerged and different styles. Yet, the core purpose of supporting the personal evolution of humans living in a body on this planet has held steady.
As someone who has practiced yoga for more than twenty years, my practice has changed a lot. I’ve been through illnesses, injuries, pregnancy, loss, and a pandemic (to name a few) and as I have practiced yoga through these times, my practice has been there to ask me why.
The answer to that question varies daily. On a given day, it might be working through neck stiffness and grief. On another day, it might be calming my nervous system and grounding. On another day it might be working with low back and hip pain related to the trauma of a car accident.
In my twenty-plus years of practicing yoga, I have found the practice and teachings themselves to be infinitely generous and adaptable.
The postures or asanas have supported my physical form in terms of strength, coordination, flexibility, and balance.
Breathwork or pranayama has helped me to keep my energy, thoughts, and emotions more balanced.
Yoga has taught me how to feel into my body and trust my own experience above all else. It has helped me trust my own ability to heal and learn from my injuries.
Having a consistent practice has allowed me to have a gauge for how I’m doing.
It has taught me discipline, humility, and patience.
Yoga is a constant reminder for me of the diverse and rich paths we each take and also the things that are magical about humans as a species.
Yoga asks us to connect our body, our breath, and our focus in a unified purpose.
At its best, it asks us to be present and accepting of wherever we are at any given moment and at that same moment it helps us remember that growth and transformation are always possible.
In Sanskrit, the word Hatha can be broken down into ha (sun) and the (moon) and can be translated as forceful or willful. The word yoga can be translated as connection or union.
The way I think of this is that the technology of Hatha yoga is there to help us use our bodies to connect to all the individual “whys” we might have, whether that is a hamstring tear or grieving the loss of your mother.
Yoga meets you where you are at with no agenda other than supporting you with your growth, healing, and personal evolution. Yoga helps us connect the different parts of us into an organized, harmonized whole.
Learning to modify practice so that it can be done safely and can also support your “personal why” is at the heart of Hatha yoga. The art of modification for appropriate practice (viniyoga) is at the core of Hatha yoga’s endurance and value as a practice.
In addition, practicing Hatha yoga also has broad general benefits. The human body has a great need for both movement and stillness. Our era is defined by both increased sedentary lifestyles and increased business. Practicing yoga can be a great antidote to the excessive sitting and frenetic multitasking of the mind that plagues most of us.
A study of yoga meets you where you are at and welcomes you in, no matter who you are or where you are starting. Even though it has a history of more than 5,000 years of delving into the great philosophical questions of time and life, it will greet you with enthusiasm if you just want help with your balance or strengthening your core.
As a physical practice, it can challenge you at a level that is equal to extreme athletes, or it can be the most gentle and subtle thing you have ever done.
No matter what level you are practicing at, your practice will always be there to ask you “why” and to invite you to know yourself just a little better- to take another step into feeling what it is like to be in your own skin.
The most amazing part of developing a yoga practice is that once you start the call and response dance of asking yourself how you feel and working into feeling that more deeply, everything can be yoga; weightlifting, dancing, driving, swimming, cooking, holding a baby.
Yoga is about creating ever-increasing subtle awareness of what it feels like to do things in your body. It is about having clarity about why you are doing what you are doing. So go enjoy your acro-neon-roller-skate- retro yoga and your cardio-hit-weight training but don’t forget about the practices like Hatha yoga that have a deep root. They will help you find and really feel the strength, joy, and meaning in all the things you do.
Why are you doing this now? What is the point?