Yoga: let’s get physical, oops I mean spiritual…
The practice of yoga means a lot of things to many people. Conventionally, yoga is recommended by health practitioners as part of a balanced life, to reduce stress, improve flexibility and strength. This is increasingly so, as yoga – at least in the West – focuses almost exclusively on asana (posture). The practice of hatha yoga has its roots in developing a supple and healthy body, with the ultimate aim of developing an ever closer union with something more spiritual. Other more physical practices have developed such as Ashtanga, vinyasa flow and even power yoga.
However, yoga is, at its core, a deeply spiritual practice. It is the essence of being; our self, our emotions and our soul. A yoga practice without knowledge of chakras, nadis and other energy channels in the body, is in one sense, a very narrow practice. With asana being just the tip of the iceberg in the tradition of yoga, it would appear that a practice limited to its more physical aspects would perhaps not be authentic.
However, is it really required to practice yoga in order to have a strong sense of its spiritual realms? Can one really be described as a yogi if one solely focuses on the physical practice? I read a recent article on Mind Body Green where a teacher complained that not enough time is given to the more spiritual aspects of yoga. That may be a fair enough statement, but alas like most things, the truth is somewhere in between.
Take me for example – my morning practice is dedicated to a strong physical routine: Developing heat in the body, waking me from my sleepy state and getting me ready for the day ahead. I look for subtle shifts in my energy levels during an extended plank or warrior I. Sometimes triangle pose does the trick too ?. Whilst I am practising, I am being in the moment and feeling my body, the last thoughts on my mind are how my ‘chakras are doing today’….Rather, I’m largely thinking about that challenging day ahead in the office and how my practice will help me; and that’s ok.
Having said that, I do find that my daily yoga practice enhances my daily meditation too, which on one level, is what the practice of yoga was traditionally all about.
On the other hand, my Friday night practice in class with my teacher is dedicated to re-alignment, recalibration and dedication – dedication to my teacher and dedication to myself. It’s during these times that I am able to look deeper into myself, how I am feeling and generally taking my practice to another level.
I know of people who come to yoga suffering from serious health conditions such as MS, anxiety or depression, for which yoga really helps. Allegedly, some poses are great for digestion, there are even claims that twists and other yogic practices are great for eliminating toxins from the body…
There are others who go on retreat and really go deep into the stuff, and there are those who just really love going to class because they enjoy it, the reasons for which are sometimes hard to pinpoint – It’s a time out from life perhaps, something so sadly missing in today’s highly-connected world.
That is why, when people question whether those working in Finance and other professions can be considered yogis, the answer is bleedingly obvious to me – yoga helps, one way or another. We may not reach God through our practice, but then again, most other people don’t in their lives, either.