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Yoga Rockford: The totality of yoga

August 31, 2011

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

What would you like to gain from this class?” is what I ask new students on a registration card as they enter the studio. Answers vary: flexibility, stronger core, peace of mind, relaxation, balance and so on.

What should I be doing outside of class?” is a question asked by students. Some might want to practice at home, but many ask about other workouts and physical activities. There is a question of what yoga actually does and how it fits with our other life practices.

No single answer to this question exists, either. Each person who practices yoga finds, with time and attention, a perfect balance for their own lifestyle. Yoga ultimately pays out what you put in. You can take it in pieces, or in its totality.

I, personally, began yoga as a form of stretching after running and other physical activities. I struggled with weight issues, and I love eating, so physical activity was always a must. I wouldn’t say I liked running — I suffered bad knees and two sprained ankles. But at the time, I had a good running partner, and it fit my schedule. So, when “the girls” started a yoga class at the nearby university, I thought I would join them.

For two years after beginning yoga classes, I continued to run. I thought the two activities were a “good balance” to one another. I still looked at yoga a little like a stretching routine. I knew there was some philosophy behind the practice; I knew that I was becoming strong in other ways besides the “usual workout”; I felt that my mind was a little more balanced from its usual state of anxiety. But, it wasn’t until a new teacher introduced me to the depth of yoga — and I experienced my third sprained ankle — that my awareness about my activities changed.

As a result of the inundation of yoga media, most people start yoga with a preconceived notion. They already know what they want from the practice, and with so many styles of yoga in the West, they can usually find it. This is the beauty and the bane of yoga here in the United States. We can find every type of practice under the sun, with every type of teacher, but we have made yoga what we want it to be, instead of looking at what it is.

Yoga is a total-life practice, consisting of eight parts, and it has more to do with the mind than it does with the body. The eight “limbs,” as they are called, run the gamut, from moral precepts to total enlightenment — all leading toward “quieting the fluctuations of the mind” (the actual definition of yoga). Most people start with only two of these aspects — asana (physical posture) and pranayama (breathing techniques) — but the six other aspects are what can take yoga out of the classroom and into your life. The classroom practice of asana and pranayama is the process more than the goal, the beginning instead of the end.

I stopped running because of nonviolence, one of the Yamas (moral precepts of yoga). I realized that my insecurity about weight manifested in the physical violence of sprained ankles and degenerating knees. But that does not mean I don’t do other activities. I walk, hike and backpack, and I love to swim when I can. These are things that bring balance to me mentally, and though they might challenge my physical practice of asana, they are not obstacles.

The totality of yoga is not about the physical goal of this pose or that. It is the journey through all the eight limbs that pays off in the end. And in my experience, putting the time and effort into the whole practice has reaped benefits beyond anything I could have imagined.

So, what do you want from your yoga? That is for you to decide. Find your own balance of activities outside of class that feed your life and feed your practice without being obstacles to the peace you look for within. With mindfulness of motivation, movement and effect, all of life’s actions can become yoga in its totality.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2011, issue

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