Practice of the Week
Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." --Bhagavad Gita
Adapted from Eva S. Hochgraf, "Yoga," in Everyday Spiritual Practice
My first yoga class was part of Sunday school experiment when I was a child. I learned about slow, deep breathing, and I wowed the grown-ups in the class with my flexibility -- imagine being better at something than grown ups! Through the years, yoga has not only kept me flexible, but taught me a basic respect for my body, which kept me aware of the deep relationship between the body and the mind. Somewhere along the way, I began to notice how much of a calming effect yoga had on me -- an effect that lasted even when I went home to a trying two-year old. As my body stretched out and my muscles had a chance to quit being so tense, my mind followed.
Every morning, before I get up, I like to start my day with a few deep breaths. It wakes me up, and reminds me to start the day in a deliberately calm way. I do a few simple poses in bed to help get my blood flowing. It's easy to bring your leg over to the other side of your body as you lie on your back and allow your spine to feel a gentle twist. Some mornings I start with a gentle rocking of the hips to wiggle out the kinks. It doesn't have to be very big or dramatic; it can be whatever comes to mind. What is most important is to enter the day with a body awareness.
I like to do my regular routine before breakfast; yoga's not fun on a full stomach! My routine has possibilities for leisurely expansion or hasty contraction, because some mornings are hectic while others afford more time. Like most of my life, yoga is most satisfying at the comfortable balance of adaptability and habit.
A yoga series, like the Sun salutation or the Moon salutation would be my bare-bones minimum. We do these series frequently in class, so I don't have to think about what comes next. I also know how to play with them: add poses or refine moves when I have time. These series work particularly well when they are repeated, once on the busy days, a few more times when I'm in the mood. Even if I do them just once, though, I feel the difference as I head out the door, my head held high and my steps light and limber.
While some people begin to learn yoga from a book or video. I recommend beginning with a yoga class. It’s much easier to copy a person that a picture, and it’s very helpful to have someone answer your questions. Going to a regular class also helps keep your momentum going. But if you can’t find a class that’s convenient, don’t give up. You can still learn a lot and experience the benefits of yoga through books and videos.
These days, the opposite problem is more common: you may find so many different classes that you don’t know where to begin. Look first for a teacher who has some training and experience and a class that is offered at a good time and place for you. Keep in mind also that there are many different kinds of yoga – some are very exercise oriented (e.g., Hatha), others more energy focused (e.g., Kundalini), and still others very precise and helpful in realigning your posture and balance (e.g., Iyengar).
Some yoga classes include individual poses, often increasing in difficulty throughout the class time. Others will run through a specific series of poses every time. Some yoga uses a lot of props (straps, blocks, etc.), while others need nothing more than a mat. Some will do poses to music; some are aerobic. Most will offer a time of relaxation at the end. Experiment until you find the class that is right for you. Ask to try a beginning class for one time before committing to a course. If you’d like to expand your horizons beyond the particular class you’re in, take yoga workshops or go to yoga retreats. Your teacher will be able to make referrals.
As you become a yoga practitioner, you will learn that yoga is much more than an odd kind of exercise. It is much more spiritual and metaphysical than limber limbs. Its Indian roots are infused with a deep philosophical understanding. What the Western world calls “yoga” is really just the more athletic branch of the total system of yogic training and study as it is classically understood in India. Yoga is grounded in a detailed philosophy of nonviolence, selfless service, vegetarianism, breath and energy pathways, meditation, chanting, prayer, self-inquiry, and more. Yoga is a total life approach that offers rich rewards at whatever level you encounter it.
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week"