We've all heard the word 'yoga' before (or maybe not) and have created some sort of idea of what yoga is... Some people might think of it as chanting, meditation, or a bunch of hippies dancing around a yoga mat. Some people might define yoga as a workout class, others, an escape. The word yoga literally translates to "to yolk" or "union," and although the physical asana, or posture, practice can definitely be a workout, it is so much more than that.
Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras which are a guide that offers insight on how to find enlightenment, describes in the very first sutra (1.1) that yoga is now. Yoga is the practice of staying present- something we have not been taught in our fast paced society. This intense focus on the now is what people experience and describe as bliss, or freedom. This has certainly been the case for me.
Patanjali then goes on to say that we see yoga when we still the mind. (1.2) Now something like 'stilling the mind' is much easier said than done. Why don't you try it right now? Take a deep breath in, hold, open your mouth and eeeeexhhhaaaale it all out. Now close your eyes with the intention to still your mind. Quiet your thoughts.
How long did it last? For most of us, only seconds- if that. Thoughts of yesterday, or last week, or last year come pouring in. Things we should have done, things we have to do later today. The endless 'to do' list. Lunch plans. Dinner plans. Grocery lists. Regrets, anticipations, it goes on and on.
This is where the practice of yoga separates itself from so many other activities, forms of exercise, or really anything else I've ever experienced. This does not mean that for the first time you step onto your mat that you have to have already mastered quieting the mind. Luckily for us, the practice of yoga is just an effort to still the mind. It is trying to stay conscious of what is going on around you, from physical alignment to your breath, without the constant movement of the thoughts. It doesn't matter who you are, what your body is like, injured or not, young or old, anybody can practice yoga. It doesn't matter if you are in child's pose or a handstand, you can practice being conscious of the mind in any moment of your practice or the day.
See what its like. Do a little experiment today and see how often you can keep track of your thoughts. Observe them. Now the average adult thinks some 50-70,000 thoughts a day, so monitoring them all could be quite exhausting! But just watch. Notice if your mood shifts from anything but happy, what are the thoughts going on in your mind? Have they moved to the past, repeating things that have already come and gone? Are you anticipating the future, worrying about something that may never even happen? Just watch. And know that at any point you have the power to change your thoughts. Focus on what is happening now. This moment is the only place life truly exists.
Look at that! You're practicing yoga! See if you can take this with you into the rest of your day, or next time you step onto your mat. See if staying conscious helps you stay steady in your practice and life. It certainly has changed mine!