Updated: Mar 1
You don't have to be flexible before ever setting foot on a yoga mat, as flexibility isn’t a prerequisite. It is true though that a regular yoga practice might actually help you become more supple over time, as well as benefiting your mental and emotional health. But there is much more to discover beyond images of pretzel poses from social media.
The most popular facet of yoga is asana practice - physical poses and sequences which are practiced for health, strength, stability, and longevity. They are wonderful tools. Unfortunately, these are brought by our physical fitness industry up to levels that are rarely accessible or fully enjoyable to most of us. The grandfather of modern yoga Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) said however, that "if you can breathe, you can do yoga." This emphasises the idea that yoga isn’t something you do only on your mat. In Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is used to signify any form of connection. Therefore, yoga by definition is both a state of connection and a body of techniques that allow us to feel connected to all the aspects of our being.
In the traditional approach, hatha yoga is all about spine movement and breathing - moving prana (life energy) in your body. It generally prepares your body to be more alive, more present, and at ease. It helps you to be more receptive and gets you ready for meditation, which is the true heart of yoga. Meditation is a process of sustained attention used to influence the functioning of the mind. Through meditation, we develop clarity and stability of the mind. It allows us to experience “oneness”, where we no longer feel separate or detached from the ocean of life.
When you come to a yoga class, instead of only copying and repeating patterns from others, start a conversation with your body - by noticing "how I am feeling now?". Awareness is a “secret” ingredient of yoga. Take something from each group class and then practice it again at home, at your own pace, noticing how it changes. Ask questions, share your feedback, make it work for you. The essence of yoga is experiential. Through yoga practice we can change our state, the way our body feels, and the way our mind operates. It will most likely shift your emotions too.
For me, yoga is working towards having more ease in my body and life. Feeling connected, understanding more about myself - my emotional and behavioural patterns too. Noticing what works, what doesn't work for me, what do I need on all levels of my being. What serves me - stays, what doesn't - I learn to release. And then I can add new, positive, more fulfilling experiences.
Yoga practice is not a simple linear process, rather more of a spiralling process. There is no on/off switch that magically gives you a sustained attention and a feel-good state. But every time you come back to it - you get a little bit better at it. That’s why it is called practice. It likely will take time.