What is it that makes yoga so different from any other health and wellness activity?
Truthfully, there is enough to discuss to fill an entire book (or more!), but one of the main differences I learned early on, is that yoga goes far beyond the health of the physical body. Yoga is a system of various practices that culminate the full wisdom of wellness, by addressing all aspects of what it is to be a human being.
Most of you probably already understand this. We hear over and over that yoga means union, a practice for the body, mind, and spirit, aligning together as one. We can intellectually understand this concept, but it is a completely different level of understanding when we experience it. One of my favorite quotes from BKS Iyengar captions this sentiment perfectly, “Words fail to convey the true value of yoga. It has to be experienced.”
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, there is no separation from our body and mind and our body and spirit. Thinking that we can arrive at a place of peace and balance solely through taking care of ourselves physically is a disservice . Get your exercise, eat your fruits and veggies, rest well, and you’ll be good to go, right? Well, that’s a good start, but it’s just the beginning.
While physical health of the body is only one aspect of optimal wellness, it is the gateway to the rest of our being. We have to start with what is tangible and for most of us it’s our body because we can see it, touch it and feel it. We know we have a mind because we are thinking all the time, but we can’t grab it the way we can our arm or leg. We can feel the shifting of our emotions moment to moment, but we can’t hold the joy our heart is expressing in our hands.
Through body awareness, body consciousness, we can connect more easily to the rest of our being. Awareness is what allows us to walk through the door of the outer physical form to the subtle and unseen inner form. When we arrive on the mat for asana practice, we connect with our body, slowly discovering our habitual patterns of movement. Movements that we do all day long without paying attention. We start to notice how often we clench our jaw, slump our shoulders, or stand imbalanced on our feet. We may pause to look at our hands and really see them, our hands that we use so much and yet notice so little. As we settle into the body and learn more about our own physical form, it is this conscious awareness that we can then invite and take with us as we move inward. For how can you truly be aware of the subtleties of your breath, or understand the afflictions of the mind and the eternal nature of your soul, if you first don’t know how you stand in your own feet?
Not only that, but it is through our body that our soul speaks. It is how we can hear the resonance of our true nature, how we are able tap into our own intuition. Our intuitive body is what lets us know when something is “off”, when something does not align with our inherent truth. Even if we cannot articulate it or understand it fully in our mind, we can sense it. It is an internal knowing that will never waiver from external forces. But we can’t tune in to this amazing network of internal wisdom if we are not connected to our body.
The most beautiful thing about this level of consciousness is that we also learn how the various aspects of our being support each other. When the body is calm and relaxed, the breath can follow. When the breath is calm and steady, the mind can follow. When the mind is at ease, the doorway to the spirit opens. When we experience the magnitude and magnificence of our own spirit, even if for only a brief moment, it can inspire the commitment of good self care, as we understand that physical discomforts and poor health distorts the overall experience of our being. Discomfort in our body will always distract us and work to pull us outward. We mistake busy-ness, the constant doing as necessity for living; sacrificing what should be non-negotiable – time for us to just be. When we pause to simply be, we can discern what aspects of our being need our care. When we slow down, we will hear the whispers from our body (sometimes it’s a yell), take care of me! We cannot ignore our body and simply wish wellness for ourselves. We must be willing to do the work and take the time to prioritize ourselves, remembering no matter the circumstance in our life or the condition of our body, we can all find greater harmony within.