Yesterday morning I went to a yoga class. I left wondering if yoga has been westernized everywhere or just in the class I had wandered into.
No pain no gain was the mantra of the young woman who taught my Sunday morning class. She encouraged us to concentrate and to hold poses significantly beyond the comfort level. Her theory was that holding poses for a long time could prepare one to handle the challenges of life.
She spoke about living life by going with the flow. It was her belief that we could take life more easily if we concentrated and struggled during our hour of yoga.
We were told that taking a drink of water during class or fidgeting was a symptom of the desire to flee from difficulties.
Yikes! I left the class wondering how the western no pain no gain exercise philosophy had became intertwined with yoga.
The purpose and goal of this ancient form of exercise is to assist us in achieving a state in which the physical body, the senses, the mind, and the spirit are fully integrated, functioning in unison. The practice of yoga poses should never put stress on the mind-body. Its purpose is to remove stress. When we remove stress we free the mind and body to do what my teacher suggested—-to go with the flow of life. She had the correct destination but was directing her students to travel on an incorrect road!
Within the solid mass of flesh and bones we call our body is a network of channels that transports energy and natural intelligence. The life force—the energy extracted from our digestion of thoughts, emotions, and food—moves through these channels. The musculoskeletal system holds together this bundle of channels, but it is our posture and our breath that direct the flow of energy throughout the network. A yoga practice is meant to put a plug on the energy drain caused by our overactive mind and body in response to the stresses of life. In essence, it should revitalize us. It should fill us with life energy!
The goal of yoga is met when we perform our poses with gentle awareness on the body. This attention is like water to a plant. It provides nourishment and liveliness to the physiology and refreshes as it rejuvenates.
Do you do yoga? In our book Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way Sandra and I promote the use of yoga poses to heal depression. Yoga is considered the ideal Ayurvedic exercise because it rejuvenates the mind, improves digestion, and removes the stress incurred in the process of daily living. If performed correctly yoga addresses the three key Ayurvedic principles for health maintenance: restoration of energy, enhancement of digestion, and purification of the physiology.
If you haven’t tried yoga yet may we suggest you do so.
Remember that yoga poses are indeed, as my teacher suggested, an exercise system, but they are so much more than that. Research has shown that they are a form of medicine, dissolving many problems and helping good health to flourish. You can practice yoga in a studio, at home, or go back and forth between the two. Should you wander into a class where you are told to focus and struggle our counsel is to not listen to this advice but to turn your attention gently inward and allow your awareness to develop and your body to heal.
As always, Sandra and I wish you perfect health and happiness!