As a yoga teacher, over the years I've had many people ask me whether yoga is the real deal: Does it really help, or is it just another fad? Do you have to be an acrobat to feel good about your practice or can anyone do it? Is it just an exercise program, or something more?
And as a teacher of Practical Yoga, I have to ask: Is yoga really a practical practice? And if so, what makes it "practical"?
First of all, in its simplest form, yoga is the process of coordinating your body and mind to connect with your spirit, or your higher self. In its more complicated form, it is a mix of traditions and styles that leaves many students with plenty of questions. What style is right for them? How do they find a teacher that can meet their needs? What types of situations should they avoid?
From my personal experience, true yoga, as well as inspirational yoga teachers, will always lead the student toward a more honest, authentic, and happy life. That, at its core, is what yoga is. If the process doesn't lead to this, then an argument could be made that just doing yoga poses isn't necessarily yoga at all. You could call it a yoga-related, or a yoga-inspired workout, but not real-deal yoga.
Yoga belongs to no one group of people, or religion, though certain groups have "held" the energy and kept it pure by passing it down with strict guidelines. In fact, the practice of yoga has been around for over 5,000 years. Yet in practical application, the process of yoga is a living and breathing thing—always "open at the top.” It adapts as people adapt. It changes as the needs of the people change. It stays relevant because it is about your breath, your mind, and your body. Times may change, but this connection we have to our inner life does not.
In the long run, the gifts received from this potent practice are, from my experience, quite remarkable—and maybe even indescribable. As a student, yoga has given me tools and techniques to help me "lean" in the direction of my deepest and highest dreams and vision for my life. It helps me focus the power of my always-active mind, and soothes my often over-stimulated nerves (or sometimes, stimulates my under-engaged nerves). At times of crisis, it has proven itself to be vital for survival.
Adding (or deepening) the practice of yoga in your life can be a powerful adjunct to an already-existing personal wellness practice: physical or spiritual. As Joel Kramer, a renowned yogi in America, has said: “Yoga transforms you by opening up the physical and mental binds that block your potential, limiting your life. Transformation is a process that brings newness and interest…”
The act of breathing intentionally, focusing the mind, and allowing a flow of energy in the body for health and well-being, supports you in manifesting each "higher-powered" vision or dream slowly and methodically, and yet with clarity and great heart-connection. This has practical use with relationships, workplace issues, and everyday living issues - just keeping up in modern times.
So, in this sense, yoga becomes immensely practical as in inward practice for an outward focus of manifesting the life of your highest vision: health, happiness, and full creative flow. May you find a style of yoga that suits you, and may you be filled with a sense of “newness and interest” in your life.