As a yoga instructor and yoga therapist, I often hear excuses for people not wanting to try yoga. One of the most common, is “I’m not flexible enough.” Of course, to me, that’s just a self-imposed barrier. People with a wide array of physical impediments can practice yoga. And, just last week, one of my students was 96-years-old. No. He didn’t have the flexibility of a 26-year-old. But that’s not the purpose of yoga.
I like to think of yoga as generating increased balance, flexibility, and strength. But, not just the physical aspects of those characteristics. The purpose of yoga is to unite or create a balance between one’s mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, when our attitudes are inflexible, we tend to have more negative physical outcomes. Finally, in addition to having strong muscles, don’t we all want a stronger mind and spirit? One of my teachers, long ago, said that with continued dedication to yoga, one should have a much higher degree of intuition. Listen to the gut (or heart) rather than being over-analytical.
Periodically, I ask my students to share what got them into their first yoga class, or, what they like most about yoga. There are always so many different responses that I relish hearing. For some, the purpose of yoga may be a specific physical concern. For example, high blood pressure, stress relief, back problems, or chronic pain.
Following are testimonials from two of my students that attest to the physical improvements achieved with yoga.
“I stumbled into yoga. Within three to four months, my chronic hip pain improved, and I feel great. I love it.”
“It was eye-opening how out of shape I was. Now, I can’t imagine life without it.”
Those are the common threads in our society. In an age where it is normal to be overstressed, many of us are looking for the fountain of youth. Others may want to fit into skinny jeans. Possibly the lion’s share enters yoga to ease some sort of physical discomfort. Although they may take their first dip with yoga for the physical benefits, the non-physical purpose of yoga shines through after a while.
Many of us older yogis recognize that the deepest benefits of yoga have nothing to do with mastering a challenging pose.
Several of my students beautifully express the purpose of yoga, for themselves.
“I was going through hard times. I needed to slow down my thoughts. Yoga is so freeing and life-changing.”
“The breathing was hard for me when I first started. The more I try, the more I find I use in my other life challenges.”
“As the mother of four, for 17 years, I always put others first. After my first yoga class, I was hooked.”
“As an artist, I do yoga because it’s visually very beautiful.”
Those last four statements reflect how one’s spirit —and life— is touched through yoga. To sum it up, the purpose of yoga is to reach and heal the inner self. Interestingly enough, while yoga can be a way to nurture oneself, and an act of self-care, it is also an act of freeing oneself of the ego.
Saul David Raye is a yogi that teaches all over the world. I’ve been fortunate to have attended a few intensives with him. He says, “The whole practice of yoga is to move away from the ego.”
Yet, he asserts, if he put a sign on the door saying, “ego-releasing class,” chances are the room would be empty.
Raye adds, “We’re good at practice. What we do we become.” However, the examples he gives are not about quieting the mind, but worrying and eating.
“We play ego games. ‘Oh, she’s evil. He’s a jerk.’ The ego wants to take credit for everything.”
“What we do, we become,” says Raye. “We spend most of our waking time at work, so we become — or identify ourselves — as an accountant, or a landscaper, or an engineer. Rather than looking into our hearts to say, I’m a lover of the color blue, or respectful of all living beings.”
“Overriding the practice of our life has to be the heart,” says Raye. “It can’t be ego. We’re all trying to get rid of this ‘I’ that’s choking us.”