“Do you do yoga to live a better life, or do you live to do better yoga?” ~ Leslie Kaminoff
The origin of yoga dates back more than 5,000 years, and across thousands of miles to northern India. What began as ancient texts of songs and rituals for Vedic priests, has been examined, embellished and reinterpreted into a lifestyle recognized around the world. Here in the U.S. the practice of yoga originally gained popularity as a form of exercise, but has gradually expanded to include the mental and spiritual benefits of healthy living. For those of us who have experienced the peaceful wash of meditation, or the lightness of movement after a good stretch, we are self-motivated to return to the mat and reestablish the connection of mind and body.
One comment I hear frequently from individuals who are either not interested, or possibly afraid to try yoga is, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” After all, the images we see of people standing on their head, or wrapped in knots of arms and legs can be intimidating to those of us who struggle to stand on one foot. We conclude that in order to practice yoga there is a prerequisite series of poses that must be accomplished first. Not so. In fact, two very basic principles of yoga are 1. No expectations, and 2. No judgment. Instead, yoga is an exploration and an inquiry of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
For myself, I see yoga as a transformable life experience. From one day to the next I might feel progress in my standing balance or clarity of thought. But on the days that sitting in easy pose is anything but easy, I accept that on this day, in this moment, I have reached the full capacity of my body and I can be OK with it because yoga is acceptance.
Leslie Kaminoff is a yoga educator, and an anatomy and breathing expert. The question he poses is easy for me to answer. I practice yoga to live a better life, and below are some of the ways my life has been enhanced. 1. I have become better acquainted with my body, its capabilities, its limitations and its function. I have greater respect for my spine, and my entire skeletal and muscular structure. I continue to learn about the connectedness of tissue and bone; of movement and rest. Our bodies speak to us through subtle signals disguised as discomfort. Yoga helps us to differentiate between the sensations that invite us to push forward and those that warn us to let go. 2. Yoga has introduced me to the power of mindfulbreathing. We are constantly encouraged to strengthen our muscles by staying active but what could be more important than working the muscles that help us breathe? Learning how to fill your lungs to their fullest capacity and then how to control the release of your outbreath keeps the diaphragm and intercostal muscles subtle and strong. In addition, controlled breathing carries us through stressful situations and pain. By paying attention to how you breathe you can lower your heart rate and your blood pressure. And each oxygen-rich breath you take, provides nourishment to every cell of your brain and body. 3. Through meditation, I have discovered clarity of focus and calm without drowsiness. Meditation can be received through guided imagery spoken by an instructor, or through silent withdrawal of the senses, seated in your own backyard. We can be meditative washing dishes, as we use the familiar, rhythmic task to think about nothing, giving our over-tasked mind a rest. We can use the power of meditative focus to stand balanced on one foot or sink deeper into a posture. Meditation is accessible in minute-by-minute increments or entire days of silent self-reflection. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Each attempt is practice. Each success is bliss. 4. One of the most important lessons I have learned through my yoga practice is unity. My body and my mind work together as one. My thoughts and my actions are components of the human who is me. The human who is me lives among other humans, creatures, plants and organic matter that coexist in this universe. We are one. Each individual, living organism interrelates with the other. When we are not unified there is chaos and suffering. When we live in unity there is peace.
It is not important in the practice of yoga that you have the ability to touch your toes. With practice, reaching your toes may or may not become available. In yoga, what is more important than touching your toes is to tap into the core of who you are. To become familiar with your thoughts, your actions, your body, your beliefs and figure out how you fit into the puzzle of the universe.
Yoga practice can lead to a better life. And the good news is that you don’t have to be able to touch your toes to experience it.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.