In January of 2012, New York Times writer William Broad stirred up controversy in the yoga community, and fear in the minds of people who might have been considering yoga as a safe and healthy activity. Since then, I frequently find myself defending the practice and lifestyle of yoga. There were several rebuttal articles and blogs written in response to Mr. Broad’s article, and most of them can be summed up as saying, “listen to your body, don’t let your ego take over and then you can trust yoga as a safe and healthy activity.”
The amount of competing information out there about yoga is staggering. There are many competing styles and traditions, many of which don’t seem interested in working together to get the best and most correct information into the hands of the lay-person. Instead of coming together to help bring yoga to the masses, many organizations and small studios and closing off and viewing what they teach as proprietary and secret. But if you’re willing to pay a LOT of money, they will tell you everything they know.
In the meantime, we are getting more obese, more sedentary, more inflexible, and more stressed out. While the yogis fight it out, America suffers.
The true purpose, the real goal of all yoga, since it’s beginnings, is and has been to help humans find inner peace. To clear the mind, to calm the noise, to help us become more calm, more centered. A few thousand years ago, a man named Patanjali taught in the Yoga Sutras that there are 8 limbs to the yoga lifestyle. The physical practice, known as Asana, is one of those limbs. And it’s the one that we’re all fighting about.
Let me give five tips that may help you wade through the confusion.
1. Your Own Experience is Your Best Teacher
If your goal is to improve the strength, flexibility and composition of your body, be your own science project. Try a few different styles and give each one thirty days. Keep a journal, and after one month, step back and see if you are noticing any changes. Look for little things like sleeping better at night, digestion, stress level and mood in addition to scale weight. Your body has immense wisdom, you just have to listen to its signals. If a particular style of yoga is working for you, stick with it. If not, try another style.
2. Write Down Your Thoughts
Our thoughts literally make or break any experience we’re having. In any given moment we can talk ourselves into or out of anything. Our little thoughts get all jumbled up with our big thoughts. Yoga gives us a rare chance to quiet our thoughts, to brush them aside, albeit temporarily, giving us moments of quiet. In these quiet times, the BIG thoughts can come to us. And often our BIG thoughts give us the answers we’re seeking. So write down what comes to you in these quiet times. If your yoga practice is helping you come to this quiet place, stick with it.
3. Do Some Soul Searching
How does your yoga practice make you feel? Do you end a practice feeling lighter, more free, more open? Is your practice opening up a space in you that feels like your soul is being fed? If so, stick with it. On the other hand, if you end your practice feeling hurt, discouraged, or frustrated, look around for another style or teacher. Your soul also has immense wisdom. Look for lightness. And if you find that in your practice, stick with it.
4. Remember That Sometimes Less Is More
It’s easy to get into a yoga pose and have the desire to go to the fullest extent of the pose. After all, we’ve seen that on the cover of the Yoga Magazine. If they can do it, so can I, right? We need to remember that every body is different. Our joints may be looser or tighter than another’s. Our muscles may be longer or shorter, more pliable or tighter than another’s. All of the injuries in yoga can be avoided by simply listening to our bodies, staying with the breath, and doing what feels best in each pose. Sometimes, less is more.
It is my sincere desire that everyone practice yoga at some level. Remember that the original intent of yoga is to clear the mind, to restore peace to the soul. At the end of the day, the best advice I can give has been given many times already; “listen to your body, don’t let your ego take over and then you can trust yoga as a safe and healthy activity.”