My first experience with yoga was through asana or the physical practice on the mat. My neck and shoulders were a mess. I could feel the tension stored in tight knots throughout my body. I needed a way to move and release some of that tension and so I found my first yoga class.
I was a quick convert. I started with two classes a week and soon found myself in four. I loved how much better my body was feeling. As the months and then years went by I began noticing something else though. Each class left me feeling so quiet and peaceful. I was completely happy, blissful even. I was content in my own body. It seemed there was more to this practice of yoga than open shoulders and hamstrings.
Yoga translates as union. It is a joining together of so many things. Breath and movement. Body and mind. Head and heart. Here and now. Life on the mat and off. Its purpose is simple. From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as translated by Satchidananda:
Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah. ~ Yoga Sutras I.2
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.
Yoga’s primary aim is to calm the mental chatter that attempts to take over our lives. The many practices of yoga provide a means to quiet the internal dialog we have playing on a loop. Notice I say quiet the dialog. It is not the abolishment of all thought that is the goal. It’s finding the focus in the middle of the storm so that you can truly be present to what is happening in and in front of you.
Asana is just one of the practices that yoga gives us to cultivate that quieter, more focused mind. We often think of asana as being the achievement of the pose. The physical practice is without question filled with wonderful side effects: strength, flexibility, balance, release of tension and more. However, the pose is just a tool, a training ground really, for practicing quieting the mind. Through linking breath and movement, we give the mind a place to rest upon so that gradually we find ourselves fully present on the mat. As we become more adept at finding that presence on the mat we find ourselves taking it with us into everyday life.
Everything we do then has the ability to become a yoga pose. Chopping vegetables for dinner. Talking on the phone. Reading a book. Sitting in a meeting. Whenever our mind quiets and we have complete focus on the task at hand we find ourselves practicing yoga. Yoga becomes a way of life.