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Yoga is not about touching your toes. It’s about finding your heart on the way down.

Understanding the True Meaning of Yoga: Debunk Common Misconceptions

The word YOGA means “to unite” in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Yoga teaches that the body and mind are not separate entities. It is rooted in the belief that the body and mind are intimately connected with the breath; you can experience the mind/body connection using the breath as a bridge.

“I have no experience and could never do the poses like the teacher.”

The practice of asanas, or poses, is an inquiry – an exploration.  Yoga uses asana as a doorway into our bodies where we experince the hidden benefits. Mastery does not come in the attainment of perfect form; it evolves by being more mindful.  Make the shape and watch what arises within that shape. Most poses offer several different options. Pick the modification that feels best for you that day, taking into consideration your experience, strength, flexibility and desired goals. Structurally, we are all built differently. Mentally, we all have different “stories”.  Make friends with any limitations and explore them!  Alignment is important and will be taught. However, the pose should be fit to the person, not the person to the pose.

“I’ve done yoga, got bored, thought it was too difficult or didn’t see any benefits.”

Thanks to its new boom in the US, much of Western yoga looks like nothing more than a complicated form of exercise for fit, skinny celebrities. Celebrity yogis may have initially tried yoga for the tight butt, but they stay with it for the mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.  Please release any perceptions you have of yoga;  if you think you are too old, too big, too tight, too weak, or have physical limitations that exclude you from yoga,  know it is adaptable to any population (and you can wear your pajama pants!).  In the ancient tradition, yoga’s “purpose or goal is to cultivate the experience of equanimity (Samadhi)” and “to unravel the causes of negativity.”  When we learn to be present in the breath, body and mind, we are given a vision of our true selves. Yoga is not just something we do for 75 minutes in a class; it becomes a way of life.

“I’m not flexible.”

This does not exclude you from yoga. Think of joints as places that “join” muscle, bone and connective tissue.  A healthy relationship in joints requires a marriage between strength and flexibility.  A safe practice goes in this order: Engage. Align. Stretch. Be the architect of your body and try to create as much spaciousness as possible! Sometimes that relationship is too intense and you come out of the pose a bit or use props for support. Other times, you need more muscle power and to go further to find your personal “edge” – that place of sensation without strain.  Respect your limitations and stop at any sign of pain, (not to be confused with the sensation of using a long lost muscle). Your yoga should be a balance of effort and surrender. There is no doubt that you can achieve proficiency.

“Yoga is a religion.”

Although it is a spiritual tradition, it is based on science, not theology. Yoga is an ancient system of techniques for physical and mental well-being. One option for finding mental peace is to turn inward and focus on something positive; a happy memory, nature, a person you love or your highest concept of goodness. For some that may be a higher power – the higher power of your choice. So although yoga is not a religion, it can be used to strengthen our spiritual well being. (On the other hand, if you just want that tight butt, it will do that too!)

“The weird Sanskrit words scare me.”

The poses are taught in English with an appreciation for the ancient, vibrational Sanskrit language.  After Savasana (the final releaxation pose -think kindergarten nap time), we say the Sanskrit prayer for peace, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”.  You may choose to vizualize someone you want to send peace, gratitide or love to.  In keeping with tradition, we exchange the word “Namaste” before leaving. The formal definition is, “I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides, I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you, where if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.” I encourage you to come up with a definition of “Namaste” that is comfortable and meaningful to you!

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