Yesterday I taught three yoga classes and heard a lot more apologies than I usually do in a day. People apologised to me for not coming to the class when they’d said they would, another apologised after telling me about a shoulder injury (“So don’t give out to me if I don’t do certain postures!” she said half-jokingly – give out? I’m not a personal trainer!), another apologised for not being able to do a particular pose. Sometimes when I’m talking about yoga with a friend who doesn’t practise yoga, they’ll talk about it in a sort of apologetic way, like “I really should get back to it…”
Let’s be clear about what yoga is. It’s not a sport. It’s not a fitness regime. It’s not something to win at, to ‘be better’ at, to conquer, or even to be proud about. Yoga is just yoga – simple, open, available. You’re not a good person if you do it and you’re not a bad person if you don’t.
Well what is it then? I’m so glad you asked!
Yoga is union of mind, body and spirit. It’s so easy to become disconnected from ourselves these days. We often find that we are living only in our heads, buckling under the constant attack of calls, texts, emails, viral videos, whatsapp messages and facebook notifications that demand you to pay attention now to the tiny screen in your pocket: Ingest all the news! Consume all the updates! Be entertained by all the entertainment! What do you mean you haven’t seen Game of Thrones? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? (What is wrong with me?)
There’s such little space for silence. You have to make a real effort to find silence in your day. Turning off the phone, turning down a social engagement, even turning down an invitation for idle chit-chat by your flatmate in the hall who you love but you’re just not really in the mood right now… you need to decide to take time for yourself otherwise it just won’t happen. Constant noise and distraction takes us away from our bodies and ourselves. Simply taking five minutes in the morning to sit still and be quiet can make you feel calmer and more grounded throughout the rest of your day. Likewise, even just five minutes of conscious movement (gym, running, dancing, *cough* yoga) can do the same. It’s up to you how you fit it into your schedule. But taking time each day to mindfully connect with your body and breath can do wonders for your energy and mood.
Yoga is a philosophy. Why yes! It’s true! You can practice yoga every day of your life without ever doing a downward-facing dog! (Although I highly recommend them) In Ashtanga yoga, the first two limbs on the yoga tree are the Yamas and Niyamas. These are basically values and advice on how to life your life. They include Ahimsa (non-violence/unconditional love), Satya (being true to yourself, having integrity), aparigraha (non-possessiveness) and santosha (contentment), among others. They go in a certain order – ahimsa is the first yama from which all other yamas and niyamas stem. Practising ahimsa means having unconditional love/non-violence for all living things. (Keep in mind that it is not something to do or succeed at – it is something you practice and aim for. We are only human after all.) When you forgive, you are practising ahimsa. When you act from a place of good intention, you are practising ahimsa.
Yoga is a path to liberation and enlightenment. Samadhi, or enlightenment, is the final limb on the tree of yoga. It is the aim of yoga. Oneness, non-attachment to anything, and liberation of the mind and soul. Yes, this is the mad-sounding, unbelievable, seemingly-impossible aim – but as a wise man once said, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Yoga is loving yourself. Years ago, I started going to yoga classes in an aim to lose weight. I can see now that my intention came from a place of negativity – I was punishing myself for not having the body I ‘should’ have had. These days I come to my yoga mat with a different intention. I come to ground and calm myself. I practise yoga to be kind to myself (which in turn, allows me to be kinder to those around me). Yoga gives me the peace of mind of knowing that my body is not bad, is not separate from me. It simply is.
Yoga is… deadly craic*, actually. Throwing myself full-force into studying yoga is probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s just made everything … a little bit better. A little more enjoyable. A little more ‘here and now’. I don’t have anything in my life now that I didn’t have before I deepened my yoga practice, but I am more content with what I do have. Change the inside and the outside will follow suit.
Yogi’s tend to have a pretty deadly sense of humour too. I was a bit surprised at first when my teachers in India made jokes or were playful – as if to be a proper Indian yoga guru you have to constantly be stony-faced with your hands in a mudra! – but it makes sense that those who practise yoga are mad craic to be around. The practice of yoga can give you a lightness and positivity that flows into all of your interactions.
Yoga is nothing to apologise for. You never need to apologise for your yoga, or your body, or yourself. You do Hot Yoga? I don’t like it myself, but great! Wait, you do Bikram Yoga, the yoga practise that was developed by Bikram Choudhury, recently found guilty of sexually harrassing his lawyer? Er… I mean … well ok … but hey, if you gain something good from going to a Bikram yoga class once a week/month/year, then I am happy for you! You don’t do yoga at all and think it’s a load of hippy-dippy bullshit? Ah well I love you anyway, let’s go for a pint.
Don’t apologise if you can’t touch your toes. Don’t apologise if you haven’t been to yoga for a year and then decide to come back for one class. Don’t apologise.
You are enough, exactly as you are, already. You body is enough. Your mind is enough. Your love is enough. You are enough.
And if you can, somehow, manage to believe that, in spite of the million different ways that we are told otherwise every single day, well then you are already practising yoga.
*Quite a lot of fun indeed.