Some of us have probably heard reports over the years touting yoga's benefits, ranging from better sleep and better sex to more flexibility. Or, you may have a friend who practices and asks you to take a class so you can experience the (insert reason here). Perhaps you're a student yourself and will read what I'm about to share with a knowing nod or quizzical wonder.
Whatever connection to yoga practice you might have, the betterment that results is more than skin deep. It goes beyond a physical transformation and becomes a way to live your life. My teacher, Shiva Rea, sums it up best when she says, "Don't do yoga; be yoga."
Union: The translation of yoga is "to yoke," or unite. The practice often speaks of the union of mind, body and spirit, but that phrase might be difficult to define in certain terms, as it runs much deeper than the tagline it has become. We are awakened to the concept that although we are unique individuals with different personalities, we are fundamentally the same. If we were to remove the skin from the physical body, denying the physical traits that tell us apart, we would see we share the same organs, same bones, same muscles and same brain structure. Union as a species is one thing. Union with each other as energetic beings with infinite possibilities is quite another.
Mind and body: Naomi Judd eloquently pointed out that "your body hears everything your mind says." When we bombard our mind with negative self-talk, when we convince ourselves that we can't or shouldn't, we send that message across our entire being. Our body is not only governed by our brain, but fostered by it as well. Yoga practice builds a confidence, a self-empowerment that takes us beyond what we can do on our mats. We learn to respect our body and its ability, and to care for it with a reverence that shuns the suggestion that we are anything less than an exquisite masterpiece.
Spirit: Quieting down a busy mind is no easy task. We have something like a staggering 70,000 thoughts a day. Thoughts often run rampant and unchecked, creating countless scenarios or reliving endless choices. When we bring our attention to single pointed focus, as in the concentration on breath during yoga class, we start to crowd out the barrage. It is within this quieter, more contemplative place that the unfolding of life becomes a voyage, a journey into that underlying hum of energy we all share, a discovery that the act of staying present and receptive connects us to a higher plane of existence.
Cultivation: Cultivate is quite the word. The Oxford dictionary gives several applications: to prepare, to develop, to raise, to grow or maintain. As we wind our way through the teachings of yoga, we cultivate a nourished, empowered mind, a cared for and respected body, and a connected, undivided spirit.
Aha! A teacher once told his audience that enlightenment isn't necessarily something that happens all at once. Enlightenment, he went on to explain, happens over and over, sometimes in bits and pieces. Haven't we all experienced an "aha!" moment? The time we knew the choice was right, or we knew the answer to a problem, we absolutely, positively knew it? Perhaps it was a peek into the soul or a deluge of intuition, but whatever the width of the channel, it was unmistakable, although as humans sometimes do, we quickly move on to the next thing, failing to recognize the significance of our knowing.
Can yoga really deliver all of this, and maybe more? It can if you remain open to the possibility and do not try to control the result, instead allowing communication between mind, body and spirit to cultivate unity with higher consciousness. From there, aha moments become more frequent and bolder. And it happens not when you step on your mat, but when you grow the seeds while off it.