By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
You run, lift weights, play golf or swim, so why would you even consider doing yoga? It’s just “one more thing” to add to the list of all the other physical activity you do. But, I can testify that, after spending most of my life doing a variety of physical exercises, with yoga there is a difference. Yoga is more than just stretching or strengthening — or even balancing out our other “work out.” Yoga gives strength and support to the body at a very deep level, and it changes the quality of our mind over the long term.
The definition of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras (the philosophical background to the practice) is “Yogah cittavrtti nirodha,” translated as “Yoga is the cessation of movements within the consciousness.” You might be surprised that this definition does not mention the physical body or even hint at the poses that are now so popular. However, it is important to note that it is the “mind” of yoga that makes the difference. Through the practice of yoga, we use the movements of the physical body to train the mind to be present and to remain aware. Engaging the mind fully in one task in one moment, we ultimately help to quiet the movements of our busy and distracted consciousness.
Take many of the other activities we “do,” for example. While our body is thrown into one course of action (running, weight-lifting, aerobics, etc.), our mind is able to continue on its usual course of planning and worrying. Thanks to technology, we can now even listen to music, read, watch TV, and/or talk on the phone while simultaneously doing many other activities. Of course, these activities may still bring benefits to our body in one way or another, and may even provide some temporary emotional/hormonal uplift. However, they continue to reinforce the separation of mind and body that our busy lifestyles already foster. We may be able to check the workout off our “to-do” list, but still find ourselves exhausted, stressed or agitated.
In contrast to this persistent “doing,” yoga invites us to just “be.” One of the biggest challenges of yoga is the effort to keep the mind in one place, to remain fully present in one activity. Like many other exercises, yoga’s physical postures are movements of strength, balance and flexibility. But the difference is that yoga demands that we pay attention. It requires a deeper control and a focus on how our body feels and works in action. We begin by “doing” a pose, but then stay, watch and learn. By paying attention, the mind may notice minor stretches of muscle, slight movement in a joint, or the sensation of the breath. Focused in this way, our mind begins to let go of its familiar chatter, agitation, and stress, moving toward a more meditative state of being.
I have been a swimmer, a runner, a weightlifter, an overall physical and mental “do-er.” My mind races naturally forward, and I find it hard to settle in one place. Yoga was (and still is) a challenge at times, but with yoga, I am stronger, more flexible, more energetic, and more stable both physically and mentally. Practicing yoga has shown me that usable strength comes from a deeper place than gets exercised in any usual muscle-building workout. I have learned that energy is a sustainable resource when harnessed and used properly, and I have found that the breath is one of my most powerful guides. While doing workouts, I was strong in one way, but through yoga, I am healthy in all ways.
The mind is the key to change, and it is what makes a difference in yoga. Once mental distractions and fluctuations cease, the Sutras say we will “dwell in our own true Nature.” Yoga is not just another thing to “do”; the practice of yoga complements all aspects of our lives. Learning to be more present through yoga, we find ourselves more present in life.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the May 28-June 3, 2014, issue