Understanding the purpose of yoga.
What yoga is really about? How to start a yoga practice for beginners. Why handstands don’t mean anything and what the real purpose of yoga is.
You scroll through your Instagram and see all the attractive, glistening hot bodies bending into pretzel-like positions.
They hold handstands and forearm balances better than you can balance on your own two feet. They look so lithe and sculpted in their trendy, colorful yoga pants and muscled midriffs.
You think about starting a yoga practice so that you can look as good as them.
Maybe you try out a few poses or a couple of classes and you feel like a baby deer taking their first steps. You start to beat yourself up and compare yourself to all the other people in the room.
You think that if you can just accomplish the poses perfectly, you’ll be ‘good’ at yoga. You really really want to be good at yoga.
It’s easy to get caught up in the physical part of yoga. We think it should look and feel a certain way and if it doesn’t, we’re terrible, clumsy AF yoga losers.
That little voice inside your head telling you that you NEED to be ‘good’ at yoga is called your ego and it usually runs the show at the beginning. It definitely did for me, too and it still does on many days.
Now, don’t get the ego confused with self-love and self-confidence. Those are healthy, positive ways of thinking that are good for your mental health.
The ego is aggrandized self-importance and self-judgement. At times It tells you you’re more worthy or better than others. It judges and criticizes others and it’s DAMN good at judging yourself. It loves to compare you to others and tear you down if you don’t add up.
It’s also the voice that equates your happiness with external forces. It’s the incessant need to accomplish and gain and get more and more so that you can be ‘happy’.
It does this to fill that deep, dark, empty hole within yourself that the ego actually contributes to. It tells you that you’ll be worthy for love and happiness once it’s filled up with these external things.
Spoiler Alert!! That hole will never be filled by these external forces.
It will keep you on this hamster wheel for your whole life. Once you get that car, boat, partner, house, dream job, body, you’ll never be truly happy as long as the ego is running the show. It will never be enough.
That’s why we have millionaires who want to be billionaires who want to be trillionaires.
This means that we don’t have to stress out about how our practice is supposed to look because every single day it’s going to look and feel different.
The point of yoga is to keep a calm mind throughout all of the postures and changes in your life. To notice the sensations without any attachments, judgement and labels.
It’s not about the physical postures. It’s about what’s going on inside your mind while doing those postures. The postures are there to give you a focus point.
They bring you to the present moment and help you to see how you react to them.
How does it feel? Are you making yourself suffer unnecessarily because you had unfulfilled expectations? Are you thinking about the past or future and not staying present with the sensations? Can you let go of all judgements and notice what’s happening without preferences?
Yoga means the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. All 8 limbs of yoga lead you to one place: Samadhi (bliss). Only one of those limbs involves the postures (Asanas).
Yoga originally started without any asanas. It was/is mostly about mental focus and meditation. Then the asanas were introduced as a way to prepare for long hours of meditation.
There is also another voice inside your head. I call it the ‘Ohm’ voice. It’s usually pretty quiet for most of us in the beginning.
It’s the voice that tells you that you are enough. Even if you had nothing, you would still be enough because it is your birthright.
These two books below are what started my mindfulness yoga practice. I can’t speak highly enough of them. They really helped me to look at my thoughts and emotions a completely different way.
The Ohm voice understands that everything in this world is impermanent and ever changing, so why get so attached to situations?
It helps us to happily loosen our grip on our attachments. It understands that we are not defined by external forces and gains. We aren’t defined by our ego thoughts, either.
The ohm voice gently helps guide us to our calm, relaxed center; an equanimous mind (Samadhi). It helps us to notice our thoughts without latching on to them and letting them carry us away.
I like to think of our thoughts as plastic wrap. Before we start a yoga/meditation practice our thoughts cling to us like plastic wrap around an apple (this is also a food blog, I can’t help but have a food reference! LOL!) We can’t differentiate how the situation truly is from how our thoughts, reactions and opinions are coloring over the situation.
When we practice mindfulness, we start to give ourselves a little distance between our thoughts. There’s a little more room to breathe, literally.
Thoughts start to become more like an apple in a very big tupperware container. We are able to distance ourselves from a negative thought and look at it with more clarity.
We learn to stop ourselves from making knee-jerk, automatic, unconscious reactions and look at a situation more calmly and objectively. We can see each moment as it is and not as how we’re coloring it in with our judgements and emotions.
Think of yoga as a moving meditation. Your thoughts during practice can go something like this:
Ego, “Dammit, I look so fat in this pose. I’m so weak!”
Ohm Voice comes in “I notice a negative thought. This thought does not define me. It’s doing nothing but making me feel bad. I’m doing the best I can in this moment and that is enough. Notice your breath and come back to the present moment”
Ego, “What should I have for dinner tonight?”
Yoga voice, “Come back to the present. This thought will pass. Notice your breath and come back to the present moment”
Ego, “I hate this pose. When will this be over”
Ohm voice “ This is a judgement that is making me suffer unnecessarily. Instead I will focus on the sensations in my body and let go of my judgements. Notice your breath and come back to the present moment”
Ego, “I suck. I was able to get this posture last week”
Ohm voice “ Everything changes. My body is in constant flux. My practice will look different every day. Notice your breath and come back to the present moment”
A good teacher that guides you to focus on your breath when thoughts arise will put a microphone up to the Ohm voice and help it to get louder. After a while, it starts speaking to you off your mat as well.
You become more understanding of someone’s slip-ups and don’t take it personal. You don’t feel a soul-crushing devastation from rejection. You become less critical, judgmental and attached to specific outcomes.
You allow for more fluctuations in life without getting upset. You become more compassionate and understand that we all just want to be loved.
You understand people aren’t out to hurt you, but accidentally do because of a fear or deep hole within themselves.
The ‘secret’ to being good at yoga is to lose the desire to be good at it. Let yourself experience it as you are. Bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on your breath and bodily sensations.
As thoughts arise, you let them pass like clouds on a gentle breeze without letting them sweep you out of the present moment. But let’s be honest, sometimes that breeze isn’t so gentle and it’s hard to let those thoughts pass.
But that’s ok, part of the practice is not beating yourself up. Just notice, and then let go whenever you’re ready. That is how to practice yoga and it doesn’t involve how good your handstands look.
Think of how many times you’ve made yourself miserable because of the way you viewed a situation. How many moments you missed because your thoughts carried you away to the past or future.
If we don’t learn how to stop getting carried away by our thoughts, we will forever be miserable.
Stay curiously open and non-judgmental. Stop making yourself suffer when you don’t need to. Stop missing out on the beautiful, little, miraculous moments happening right now because you’re worried about the past or regretting the future.
Take a breath, and be here now.
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