What comes to mind when you think of yoga? Probably pretzel shaped humans, twisted into crazy positions who appear to defy gravity. Or maybe a wild-haired, om-chanting hippie covered in jingly jewelery? Or possibly a lean, muscular, protein-fueled, exercise junkie? Well, just as there are many of those who do fit the stereotypes, there are just as many who simply practice yoga for the vitality, flexibility and peace of mind it brings.
Just as there are misconceptions about the people who practice yoga, the true purpose of yoga is also widely unknown. Yes, the practice/art form is bending, stretching and holding odd looking poses with equally odd sounding names. Although, what you are missing out on by only judging the cover, are all the subtleties that unfold and reveal themselves to the practitioner who regularly takes time to hit the mat. Subtleties such as actually feeling the breath flowing through your body, not just rushing through each inhale and exhale taking the miracle of breathing for granted. Or that glorious moment when that cue your instructor has been repeating class after class, finally clicks in your body and your mind and you simply understand.
When I encourage people to give yoga a try, I usually get one of two responses: “I’m not flexible,” or even more popular, “I can’t shut my brain off.” I chuckle inside when I hear these excuses because those are exactly the things yoga is for! Yoga encompasses mind, body and spirit. Every person struggles with something from one of those categories , or if you are like me, probably something from each.
My biggest struggle in yoga would definitely be in meditation, or the mental portion of yoga. My brain runs a mile a minute on a normal day, and I often suffer from anxiety. So when it was announced that a swami from the renowned Shambhava school in Colorado was going to visit us and give several workshops, one of which focused on meditation and the nurturing side of yoga, I jumped at the chance. Swami Devananda was everything you would expect from a yoga master. She had such a warm, calming demeanor. Her voice was soft and melodic, and as she talked us through the meditation portion, I could feel any reservations I had melting away. Normally when I practice meditation, I tense up from the idea of having to remain still. The swami allowed us the time to become as comfortable as we needed to be in a seated position. Between periods of silence, she encouraged us to calm our busy minds by thinking of things that made us happy: friends, family, flowers in the sunshine or lying on the beach listening to the waves breaking. Normally spending an hour meditating would sound like torture, but with Swami Devananda guiding me, I was so calm and relaxed I almost fell asleep a couple of times.
If you are like me and suffer from an overactive mind and would like to learn how to quiet the endless river of thoughts, I highly suggest guided meditation. Several studios including my own, Sri Yantra Yoga, has classes specifically for meditation. This Saturday, April 13, from 3 to 5pm at Sri Yantra, Swami Devananda will be leading another yoga and meditation workshop.
So if you’ve been tossing around the idea of jumping on the yoga bandwagon, just remember that yoga is for everyone and it’s not all about the crazy twisty, upside poses.
Until next time, savor a breath or two.
Bethany Traynor is a yoga instructor, longtime dancer and resident of Chartiers Township. She teaches Hatha yoga at Sri Yantra Yoga Studio in Houston.