I absolutely love when a student asks this question. It begs the question, What is Yoga? So that is where I start all my teacher trainings, for in order for us to know if what we are doing is yoga, we have to come to agreement on what that four letter word means.
What does yoga mean to you? Is it about physical postures and flexibility? Is it Sun Salutations? Is there a certain way in which you must breathe in order for movement to be yoga? Does it need certain clothing, location, temperature, people, chanting, Sanskrit, tradition, knowledge, certification, amount of time practiced, mat, props, bare feet, sweat?
I’d say no to everything listed in that previous paragraph. Yoga to me means more about how I do something and the results of my actions than anything else. Yoga to me is an attitude of attentiveness, reverence, and curiosity to each moment as it appears. My practice involves first getting centered, finding my intention, honoring my teachers and dedicating my practice to something greater than me. I will then do some sort of physical practice — moving my body is definitely a must for me, though these days I find that I do not do the same practice daily like I used to. I have more variability based on what different parts of me are feeling.
I include breathwork in my practice and meditation as the last part of my morning session. Then in the afternoon, I will do more breathwork and meditation. Yoga off my mat can include a practice of “mindful walking” as a way of staying present to the beauty of nature, or the environment and people around me.
On the weekend mornings, when I have more time to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea outside, I will sit on my porch and allow myself to get absorbed into the sounds and sights of birds and animals as they wake up. I love to stay connected with the natural patterns around me, so I am typically found doing this with the the plants and trees, stars, the sun, and especially the moon. I greet them, send them my love, and attempt to “feel” them — it doesn’t always happen, but sometimes there is a sense that we are one.
Those are the easy times. Then there are the times when my button gets pushed, or I’m not in that lovey mood, and I realize this is the real practice. I remember to take some nice slow, even breaths, and allow myself to actually be with what is going on. Be with the discomfort of an emotion perhaps, or be with the tightness in my stomach, slow down my inner narrative of everything that has NOT YET HAPPENED, so that I can be present for that other person and myself. It can help me (if I catch myself in time) to act consciously rather than react unconsciously. Breaking through these old patterns (samskara in Sanskrit) is great work! It brings me back to the place where I remember that the other person and I both came from that same star dust…we are both the sparks of the divine light. That’s usually my best yoga practice, those difficult moments. And that’s why I practice daily on my mat when its easier, because it helps me do a good practice when its not so easy. This is what I call living my yoga.