I am about to guide a group of ‘aspirational’ yogi people through a 10 week program of ‘yoga’. For many, the only experience they will have had will be with the asanas (postures), maybe breathing. What is yoga?
I googled the benefits of yoga. 53 million pages, all saying much the same stuff in different ways. Some of it said much better than I could ever say, some said much worse. Here is what I discovered…
1. Most people’s written views about ‘what is yoga’ is from the perspective of what part of yoga has the most meaning for them.
2. A focus on one of two categories: scientific (listing out the physical benefits or the research supporting why one asana over another) or emotional, bordering on the mystic (sometimes with reference to chakras or chi, but often not).
To list the benefits for yoga is, as one of my excellent life teachers from the past frequently told me, like ” cutting an elephant into pieces, and putting those pieces back together – you will have something, but IT WILL NO LONGER BE AN ELEPHANT”.
What is Yoga (the full elephant)?
My morning routine after the 3S’s (shower, shave and you know what), is Jalan Neti. I have a neti pot, my Murray River pink salt. This nasal cleansing involves an assessment of which nostril I am breathing out, why that nostril as opposed to other one is clearer (in yogic tradition, left nostril is ida, the feminine, right nostril, is pingala, the male energy).
After my Kriya yoga (Jalan Neti is part of a suite of body cleanses, some of which you will wish you never learnt, but that’s another story), I prepare my food offerings for Buddha, my joss sticks, and make a prayer. This is yoga.
Depending on the issues to hand in my life, I offer up 5 (representing the kleshas), or 8 (representing the eight-fold path of Buddhism) joss sticks. I meditate for about 20 minutes, sometimes less, sometimes more. Sound meditation. Always outside and in front of Buddha. I have my favourite mantras. Love the Buddhist chants – always start with these and finish with a Hindi chant. I have to put a timer on me now, because I sometimes don’t hear the end of the last mantra. I will do some breathing practice (pranayama) after meditation. Usually about 5 minutes. I prefer Nadi Shodnum, but sometimes Bhastrika Kaphalbati, in honour of my favourite yoga lineage. This is all yoga. I still haven’t done any poses.
I eat clean (meaning fresh or as close to, preferably organic but where I live it is hard to come by and hideously expensive) and mostly green (vegetables, salad, no carbs, but have been known to indulge in chocolate brownies vegan style). I say mostly green, because I have not been able to kick eating fish and chicken, and I still have milk in my coffee (double horror!)
I have come to the conclusion it is not yet time to give these up. Until then, I have to live with the karmic blowback of eating animal and animal by products. I hope it will be minimal, because I am only eating something I can kill myself (a chicken is small, and cows aren’t killed to make milk, are they?), but it’s not up to me to decide how important another living being’s karma is. This is also yoga, and I still haven’t done any poses.
I practice asanas (poses), sometimes up to 3 hours, sometimes as short as 45 minutes. Mostly, but not every day. There is a real world we all have to contend with. 45 minutes is the ‘shortest’ time now for my personal practice. I have to plan out the week to fit them in. And I include least 5 minutes before and at the end of each practice some more pranayama (breathing practice). Ah you say, I know this yoga – and yes this is yoga.
I try and do something every day to make someone else happy, even if it is only a smile and hello to someone who looks like they could do with a bit of love. It’s like watering a thirsty plant, and this is yoga.
Yoga’s impact on me feels bleeding obvious. I am a happier, calmer person. People say I glow (most of the time), I don’t think it is the good makeup (although that helps). I see illness, sadness and conflict in so many people’s eyes (why can’t I be happy – I want to be happy). But I feel at peace and happy, even when I get sick or sad (there is no constant happiness guarantee for a yogi – there cannot be light without shade). This is yoga, too.
I haven’t always been this person, but I have been this person for quite a while now. When people ask what is yoga, I say, it is how I live my life, let me tell you how wonderful it is… as one famous yogi guru said,
“Yoga teaches us to cure what cannot be endured and to endure that which cannot be cured” BKS Iyengar