When I was 42, I began the practice of Yoga immediately upon seeing my then-77-year old mother – who had been practicing yoga for over 30 years – swoop ease-fully into a full forward bend to pick up a kitten. I remember committing at that moment to whatever it would take to earn such gracefulness at 77.
That was 15 years ago. Today I have a whole new respect for the practice.
I understood early on that Yoga is not the poses (they’re asana, the 3rd of 8 steps on the Yogic path). It’s what happens as a result. The poses help us to strengthen, lengthen and quiet the body in order to do the same with our breath and mind. THEN, we can cease all movements (vritti) and move inwards toward bliss. Said another way: we leave the past behind, forget about the future and nestle in the NOW.
Yoga doesn’t demand anything…except to practice it consistently. If I am not feeling up to practicing a particular pose, I’m encouraged to sit it out. If my arm or leg isn’t lifted as high as it was yesterday, that’s perfectly ok. Yoga is wonderfully adaptive – which is great, because our bodies are constantly changing. We are not the same beings we were yesterday – and, God willing, we won’t be the same people tomorrow we are today.
I studied dance and performed professionally – a very competitive industry – but I preferred rehearsal to performance. Performance seemed more about perfection – getting all of the movements right – and it demanded one’s best irregardless of how one might be feeling on the inside. I performed all types of movement (ballet, modern-ballet, jazz, modern, musical-comedy) which brought careful attention to alignment – and I bring that to the poses.
An interesting part of this journey is that I was doing Yoga all along the way – which is what made rehearsing dance so much more rewarding than performing dance – the exploration when body, breath and mind unite to create a powerful moving mudra (gesture) which evokes truths on a cellular level.
With Yoga, there is no competition. With others as well as oneself. And there should be no pain! If there’s pain (not to be confused with effort), it is not Yoga. Yoga teaches us to find and respect our edges rather than steer clear or push past them.
Every breath that is mindful is valuable. Yogis are known to believe they have a set number of breaths in this lifetime – so they do the wise thing: they set out to make each and every breath meaningful.
You’ll see that I favor a yoga style that combines a joy of slow and steady movement with a single-pointed focus upon the movement to tap into the strength of stillness (samadhi). By intentionally slowing body and breath, our senses turn inward (pratyhara), we free ourselves from outside desires and distractions as our minds quiet into dharana (meditation) and dhyana (contemplation) – more of the eight limbs on the Yogic path. Yoga, according to Patanjali, is the cessation of the fluctuations of thought. Through it, we learn single-pointed focus on the NOW. With practice.
Practice makes progress: not perfection.
I love sharing Yoga’s myriad health, mental and spiritual gifts – these are valuable, timeless lessons of perspective, patience and respect which help us de-stress from today’s pressures, haste and anxieties!
So, join me, slow down and find your body, breath and mind growing stronger…into stillness (the ultimate challenge).
Mark received his 500-hour level Brahmrishi Yoga Teacher Training Certification in 2016. He is registered with Yoga Alliance®.