What If I’m Not Good At Yoga?
In the first blog post, we discussed the question “What is Yoga, Anyway?” and we left off with another question, “if Yoga means Union, then what do we mean by Union?”
Understanding Union is essential if we want to answer an even more important question, “now that I have a basic idea of what Yoga is, how do I do it?” And, the even bigger question, “how do I get started, especially if I feel that I am stiff, inflexible, old, weak, or I don’t have enough time?
First and foremost, let me say once and for all that there is no such thing as being “good at Yoga.” Yoga is a state of mind and a way of being, not a skill. If you can touch your toes, that’s great. If you can’t, that doesn’t in any way prevent you from practicing Yoga.
If Yoga was only for athletes and those who are already flexible, then what value would it have? The true power of Yoga practice comes from its ability to help people connect with and develop their physical, emotional, and mental selves. Yoga is about developing a heightened sense of feeling so that instead of your body and mind being disconnected, everything is working together in balance.
Union implies that there are multiple components, but that these various components have been brought into a state of oneness. In the case of human existence, we have different components such as the body, the breath, and the mind.
I have been asked, “what is the difference between practicing Yoga and ‘just stretching?’” Yoga practice has the potential to differ itself from “just stretching” because it does not deal only with the physical part of the body but also with the breath and the mind.
For example, stretching the back of your leg might look like putting the heel of your foot on a chair, extending your leg, and leaning forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg, and then holding that position absentmindedly for 30 seconds or so. A Yoga practice with the same goal of stretching the back of the leg might look the same, but, in addition to the physical posture, it should also involve a consciousness of the breath and an awareness of mind. This could mean simply taking relaxed, controlled breaths, trying to make each inhale and exhale longer than the previous one. If you want to make the practice more dynamic, inhale while holding the posture and exhale while stretching deeper. Instead of letting the mind wander, you can become aware of the physical sensations in the back of your leg as well as the pace and force of your breath. This synchronization of body, breath and mind is Yoga, aka Union.
You can incorporate the concept of Union aka Yoga in anything you do—while walking down the street, become aware of your breath; while driving in your car, become aware of your breath. By combining physical movement with controlled breathing and mental awareness you can take a boring and tedious exercise and turn it into a powerful practice. Not only that, in the same amount of time, you can not only stimulate your physical body, but also train your breath and mind at the same time. Yes, that is a three-for-one combo, no purchase necessary to win.
Typically, Hatha Yoga practitioners are trying to control their mind through the manipulation of the body and breath, but, if your body is not cooperating, then you can go from the other direction. If you develop a relationship with your breath and mind, despite physical setbacks, you will be able to approach physical development with much more ease. Take time to develop your sense of relaxation and this will transfer into your physical movements. If you have trouble breathing, then practice small physical movements with awareness. If you can’t move your body, then simply close your eyes and listen to your surroundings, your heartbeat, or your thoughts.
If you heard about the benefits of Yoga and are interested in getting started but find the process too difficult because you think you are too old, stiff, inflexible, weak or hurried, then make Yoga practice as easy as possible for yourself. If your goal is to become more flexible and increase your range of movement, then simply start with one simple stretch or movement and try to incorporate an awareness of the breath and mind. A good point of reference is to hold a posture or repeat a movement for four breaths, trying to make each inhale and exhale longer than the previous ones. If your goal is to be more calm and focused, then make a point to stop, close your eyes, and take four breaths. Do this once a day and build from there.
Can I tell you a secret?
Yoga practice does not have to involve physical activity, AND the most powerful practices in Yoga do not require any physical movement at all. There, I said it.
So, if you aren’t feeling your best, you heard that Yoga is good for you, you want to give it a try, and yet you don’t think you can…don’t worry! Take a deep breath and repeat.
There is no pressure, no race, no award to be won, no achievement to be had.
Yoga practice aims to bring you back to center, to make you aware of all of the parts that are already there and to bring them together into a complete, balanced whole.