Why Practice Yoga?
Why do you practice Yoga? Is it for health, strength, and flexibility? That’s good. Or perhaps you find that your yoga practice helps you to relax and release stress. That’s good too. Maybe for you, yoga is a form of moving meditation that gives you a deeper insight into yourself. That is also very good.
While all of those are very good reasons for practicing Yoga, some people might say that yoga is just another exercise routine. Some people might even say that it is a particularly wimpy kind of exercise. Others might say that Yoga is self-involved navel gazing.
I would respond that Yoga is not simply exercise nor is it self-centered navel gazing. I would say that yoga is a gift to yourself that allows you to give something very profound to everyone you come into contact with, from your acquaintances to your friends, to family members, and to the cashier at the supermarket. Here’s why that is true. When you are in the midst of experiencing the yoga posture and you are not being competitive with yourself and you are truly exploring what is happening in the body, the mind, and the emotions you inevitably perceive yourself in a very intimate way. The nature of the postures is to stir things up – to shake you out of your habitual way of looking at yourself. When you inhale and when you exhale in an asana you may discover that you have been repressing an emotion. That which you have been diligently pressing down has a tendency to pop up in the asana. You begin to let go of that which you have been repressing, compressing, and stressing.
You may, in that process of letting go, realize that there is something very significant about yourself that is being revealed. Letting go of what has been causing you pain is an act of kindness toward yourself. Continuing to repress it or to engage in the same old patterns of belief and behavior are revealed, in Yoga, to be an act of unkindness toward yourself. You may discover that your beliefs and behaviors are leading you around by the nose. They can, if you allow them, tyrannize and rule your life. But the truth is, beliefs and behaviors have no substance. They are as temporal and flimsy as the wrapping paper on a birthday gift. Remove the paper and the gift is revealed!
This experience of realization is what Yoga has to offer us. When we step out of our everyday lives and sit down on the mat it is exactly like entering a temple. The space that you inhabit on the mat is a temple! We step out of our habitual way of being in the world and our most vulnerable places are revealed to us.
The most important thing about the experience of opening to your vulnerability is that your true strength emerges. Strength is not how much weight you can lift, or how far you can run, or how long you can hold the plank pose. True strength lies in allowing yourself to open up and be honest and true to yourself. When you allow yourself to explore this openness, you are discovering, not only something very true about yourself, you are discovering something true about humanity. Whatever fears you may have, whatever vulnerabilities you may be repressing, they are the same primal fears and vulnerabilities that every other person who has ever lived has felt. Every other person who has lived has felt the same thing that you are feeling right now. External cultural and personal circumstances may differ, but the internal, human experience is universal.
When you recognize the reality of this universality and your inherent connection to others, you have discovered the essence of compassion. When you allow yourself to become intimate with your own fears and vulnerabilities without judgment, you will have realized compassion for yourself. And, through this self-realization you will have discovered the path of compassion for others. I am not talking about sympathy or feeling sorry for someone. I am talking about knowing the human heart.
When giving yourself to the vulnerability of the asana, you rise up from the temple of your mat and walk out the door into the world, a changed human being. Without any effort, just by being yourself in this bejeweled yogic awareness, you are able to give to others. In this way, this Yoga practice, this cultivation of vulnerability, this awareness of Self is a gift to everyone. Everyone is made of the eternal changeless Self, whether they realize it or not. When you practice Yoga, you are practicing for the benefit of everyone. When the light of Self shines in you, it illuminates everyone you come in contact with. Your Yoga practice is for the benefit of the bus driver, the elderly man down the street, the person that cut you off in traffic, the surly teenager, the annoying relative, the people you love, and for the cashier at the supermarket.
To practice yoga is to serve others as well as your deepest Self. And that is a joy!
-excerpted from my book,
The Beautiful You That You Know Yourself to Be.