Yoga is not a big-city fashion. It is a thousand-year-old tradition of mastering changing states of mind, calming down and finding peace within yourself. It is not a sport or a religion. And since it is for everyone and does not require any additional equipment, it can help us in times of anxiety and domestic quarantine. And now you can practice it with us too.
Recently, a video from a hospital in Madrid was circulated on the Internet, where there are no beds for COVID-19 infected patients, where the medical staff chanted a mantra together. In turn, Harvard University scientists encourage daily practice of yoga, including breathing exercises and meditation, in order to strengthen the resistance to coronavirus, and to calm the “crown-panic” and alleviate stress. People of public life in times of pandemic call in interviews and on their channels for yoga and pose for pictures on the mat. Suddenly half the world started to practice yoga! And it is not a celebrity fashion in social media. It’s about being aware of necessity and looking for help in a proven tool.
In times of domestic isolation the possibilities of movement and emotional response are very limited. And you want to react even more now. When deciding on yoga we don’t have to go out – the relatively small area of the mat gives us unlimited possibilities to work with the body. Just like the Internet – today we can practice with many instructors in our own living room, because most of them have opened online branches. And often free of charge.
Probably that’s why even people we didn’t suspected of that before pulled out dusty mats and carimats from their beds today to try this panacea.
I address this text to them – those who know little about yoga, but are ashamed to ask. Because yoga is absolutely for everyone – regardless of age, gender, nationality, religion or wealth. And you can start practicing it right away. And even you have to.
Standing on eyelashes
Yoga is not a gymnastics, although it has such elements in it. It is a whole philosophical system. When exercising the body, we don’t just exercise the body. Yoga treats us holistically, we have many dimensions of existence, not just tissues (I think you agree?). By working with the body and conscious breathing (breathing is crucial in yoga), we also shape our character, endurance, learn attentiveness and master changing emotional and mental states. We harden the spirit. Because “yoga” is from Sanskrit “union”, synthesis, balance and combination of body, mind, emotions and spirit. It is to be in harmony with each other and, consequently, with the rest of the world. Its basic definition according to Patanjali, the father of today’s yoga and author of “Yogasutra” says: “Yoga is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind.” (from Sanskrit: “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha”). This is why its practice gives us freedom from fears, tensions and worries.
Yoga is not a sport and excludes many aspects such as performance, records, murderous training or competition. Learning yoga teaches respect, and one of its ethical principles is non-harm (from Sanskr. ahimsa). This also applies to ourselves and our body. The practice of yoga cannot be living on the verge of pain and breathlessness. This is what cardio exercises are, during which the blood pressure increases and the heart rate accelerates – in yoga the other way round, the heart rate drops. It is a practice of calming down, contact with yourself, during which the level of stress hormone, which increases during intensive workouts, also decreases. Each yoga sesion ends with a deep rest in a lying position (Shavasana posture). Of course, thanks to yoga, we can wonderfully strengthen, make our body more flexible and carve it out. But not right away! Yoga is the way, not a goal. We cross our borders slowly, because it is not about crossing borders, not about hard-core, but about listening to the body and consequence – systematic, uninterrupted practice. This is probably the only point of common with sport – patience and consequence. Yoga develops us and our bodily abilities, but it is not the aim of yoga to stand on our heads or on our eyelashes after a few classes.
Far from the stands, close to each other
How many times have you wondered why social media users want to report on the practice of yoga most often by standing on their heads when there are hundreds of other asanas (asanas are body positions/posture in yoga)? It’s obvious – headstand (Śirszasana) looks great, and social media, especially Instagram – fashionable among yoga adepts, feeds on an attractive image and content. But don’t let it confuse you. Although standing on your head is great and powerful asana, yoga does not have to be visually spectacular to be effective.
Therefore, when you again see on the web pictures of girls (most often) who touch the top of their heads with their toes or stand not only on their heads but on one toe of their hands, do not worry that you cannot do that. You will probably never do. This picture is not a yoga. It’s a show, presentation, kind of theatre. The show is cool, even delightful and can gather big audience. There are whole regiment of professional gymnasts, ballerinas and acrobats who are posting these kind of pics. There is nothing wrong with it. Some people admire it. Some others, especially beginners, are discouraged. And then they start repeating: “Yoga is not for me, because I won’t even touch the floor with my fingers!” The comparison begin. And the truth is that yoga is for everyone. And it happens in concentration and silence. Without posing, likes, comparing or chasing. Without fans and full stands, as usual in sports. Because yoga is a humble and lonely journey within. It is a championships without a race and competitions.
The author is a Polish writer, journalist, Sri Sri Yoga teacher and meditation and breathing techniques trainer based in Warsaw.