You could ask this question to a thousand yogis and get a thousand different answers. The reason being that each of us understand yoga a bit differently. Our different backgrounds, lives, beliefs, needs and goals all help to shape our belief of what yoga means to us. I find this to be a fascinating thing about the practice; it is whatever it needs to be. The practice is as individual as we all are. We can take what we need, and what works for us that day. We see the benefits that ourselves and others get, and the beauty is that this does not have to be the same from day to day. Yoga is fluid.
Some yogis found yoga in search of a physical challenge. There is certainly this aspect when we push ourselves into poses, breathe as we move and focus on deepening into our stretch, working from simple to challenging poses. Some practices increase exertion levels, moving with every breath, generating a cardio-vascular workout. Other classes focus on muscle conditioning by holding challenging poses for several breaths. We stretch, condition and strengthen our muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and their corresponding attachments when we practice, so yes, it can be a very physical practice.
Others found yoga when searching for a spiritual path. When we open ourselves to the universe, we accept energy from the planet, from the universe, and from others practicing in the same room with us. This energy or spirit guides us through our practice, gives us strength and courage and encourages us to go deeper. When we allow our focus to be on the here and now, the present, we can find this spiritual side to yoga as we become more aware of ourselves, and the world around us.
Our emotions can be triggered during a practice as well, and some are in search of a deeper emotional connection when they find Yoga. As we move our bodies, stay connected, search for deeper meaning, we often find that this brings up emotions we would have otherwise kept suppressed. As we work through tightness and resistance in our physical bodies, we release energy back into the body. This energy can, at times, manifest itself as an emotional response.
Still others simply want to have an experience whereby they can sit in stillness and find clarity and peace of mind. We begin on this journey when we come to rest on our mat and draw awareness to our breath, and encourage our outside thoughts to blur in the background. As we live in a hectic, busy world where we are always connected, we often find Yoga to be our solace. This is where we come to get away from the “rat-race” if only for a short period of time. This time on our mat becomes sacred to us and we strive to practice daily, even if just to escape for a while.
While I have highlighted some of the benefits of a regular practice, and offered some of the reasons we come to our mats, there are still myriad reasons people find themselves in Yoga. There are as many reasons to practice as there are practitioners of Yoga. Each of us on our own individual journey, always striving, always growing, always seeking stillness. As Yoga combines breath and movement, body mind and spirit are guided through a series of poses. We move our joints to their full ranges of motion, we stretch, contract and rest our muscles, our internal organs, our connective tissues. What we get out of our practice depends on what our goals are, and the effort we put into our practice.
Whether you are brand new, just thinking about it, or a seasoned yogi, there is always benefit and reward to coming onto your mat to practice. You need not have any experience, you will get exactly what you need from the first time you try a class. You don’t need to be flexible, you do not need a particular body type or level of fitness. In fact, Yoga can be done by everyone. Age, gender, race, religion, socio-economic background, size, shape, fitness level…and any other box we put ourselves into become irrelevant, the only thing we need is a desire. Yoga is inclusive, Yoga is love, Yoga is life. Try it, you might just surprise yourself!