Yoga: Don't Do It, Be It

What is Yoga?

I always like to start a practice by closing my eyes and observing my breath.  The breath contains so much information about what is happening inside the body, but I'm usually too distracted to receive it. That's why I need the first few moments of tuning in and connecting to the breath so that I can drop into the yoga.  But what does that even mean?

Since I am a bit of a linguistics nerd, it helps me to understand where the words in this practice actually come from.  I find the language of it all to be fascinating and so telling of the original intent.  The word, "yoga" comes from the root word in Sanskrit, "yuj", meaning union or to yoke.  In the modern yoga world, we use the word as part of an action - "do yoga", "practice yoga", or as one of my dearest Japanese friends likes to say "play yoga".  In reality though, yoga is about being, not doing.   Yoga is a state of connection, it is the union of your inner and outer awareness.  From Leslie Kaminoff, yoga is "...any time that your body, your breath and your mind are doing the same thing at the same time".  The beauty of this definition of yoga is that you can have it anywhere.  You can be yoga while you're running, while you're waiting in line or doing laundry.  Yoga doesn't require that you put your foot behind your head, but if your breath is open and expansive, your foot is moving in that direction and your mind is willing it to happen, then you have the yoga.  You're not doing it, you are it.  You may not ever reach the full expression of all of the physical shapes, but at least you are in a state of yoga.  Which is the whole point of the practice.

What this also means is that we can be in the physical practice without any yoga at all.  Is the mind wandering?  Is the breath absent?  If so, then there is no yoga even though the outer shape may be in alignment.  Don't let the body do it alone, let the practice be a collaborative effort.  Check in often: where is my mind?  where is/isn't my breath?  This way, you invite yoga onto your mat and you can start to explore yoga in other areas of your life.  How can the mundane become infinitely interesting by aligning the body, breath and mind? 

Practice

This sequence, "Revolve", focuses on revolving the spine by oscillating the limbs in coordination with the breath.  When the breath participates in the revolution of the spine, it can leave the body feeling refreshed and energized.  The alternative is forcing the spine to twist using only external effort.  Here, we explore a combination of both internal and external forces.  The waves of this practice cycle through progressively deeper twists to massage the internal organs and strengthen the spine with backbends and hanumanasana to unravel at the end.