What We Think When We Think of "Yoga"

I have been doing a  lot of individual yoga sessions for family and friends. They come over to my house after work, as the sun is setting, and by the end, the room is bathed in candle light and calm.

Almost every person has ended the session in a state of surprise: 

"But you said this was a yoga session."

"I was so nervous- I've never done yoga before- but this was great. What was this?"

It's yoga. Just not the kind of yoga that has taken over the western world.

I teach a restive practice, designed to calm the nervous system. There are candles. There are lavender-infused eye pillows. 

In our world today, or at least in North America, yoga has come to mean: 

workout

flexibility

headstands

$20 per class

brand name clothes

There is this prevailing idea that yoga looks like this:

 

At the end of a session, my friends' expressions are serene, their eyelids drooping. They say: 

"I am ready to crawl into bed- oh, wow, it's only 9:30."

"My body feels like cement, I'm so relaxed."

"I slept so well after our session, how come?"

What they're experiencing is a state of deep relaxation. This is an integral part of yoga, but again, as a society, we skip this step entirely, or rather we don't give it equal weight to the fitness part of yoga.

The original intent of yoga was to do very active movements so you could come to a restive state more fully, so you could tend to your mind and your body. But in most studio yoga classes today, the restive pose, savasana, is the most hurried, often no more than two minutes long.

The structure tends to be: 

1. Slow stretches

2. Breath work

3. Restorative poses 

The sort of yoga I'm drawn to teach looks like this: 

The focus of my sessions is on connecting to the breath. To get out of our heads and into our bodies. To bring calm to our overworked minds, to create a pause in our overworked days. 

Most people do yoga in a studio. With 19 other people. The focus is on "getting a workout". The goal often is to achieve the elusive headstand. 

And because this has become the very set impression of Yoga, those who haven't tried it fear it. 

I had to laugh when my friend said, "But I thought you said we would do yoga today." Lifting your arms overhead and noticing how it feels in your body is yoga. Sitting or lying comfortably and noticing your breath enter and leave your body is yoga. Asking yourself, "How is my body feeling today? How is my mind today? What is my emotional state at this moment?" is yoga. 

This form of yoga won't directly result in a headstand (though it can definitely be paired with a more active practice to help you get there). But it will help you sleep better. It will help you notice when you're upset or angry and move through that feeling without breaking down or turning to a substance for relief. It will help you be present- at work, with friends, with yourself.

This, too, is yoga.