Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I'm Backkkkkk...and a Certified Yoga Teacher! Woohoo

I'm alas home after an intense month of being fully immersed into the science of yoga. Yep, you heard me, according to Yogaville, yoga is best defined as a science. In the past several years yoga has gone completely mainstream. Being used to advertise everything from cell phones to trains ("our train rides are as relaxing as a yoga class"), there are few people who haven't at least heard of "yoga". However, few Americans are truly aware of what this intricate science actually is. In Yogaville, I was refreshingly reconnected to the roots of yoga, where everday I breathed, ate, and slept yoga- the real yoga.

Many people are well aware of Hatha, the physical side of yoga which includes all the sun salutations, the downward dogs, the headstands, and all the other intriguing poses that the billboard models are often twisted into. Tons of newly introduced yoga-goers arise each day and go to their morning power yoga, or level 2 or 3 yoga class, where they sweat through pose after pose, straining their body until they look like someone on the front cover of Yoga Journal Magazine. In the back of their mind, there may be a voice telling them not to strain or push themselves while in yoga class, but they refuse to listen to what their body (and mind) is telling them. Especially athletes who consider themselves to "fit" too ever be seen in a beginner's class. They may even end up injuring themselves, but will refuse to give up straining themselves and keep on trudging right through the pain. The average American is programmed to push, push, push. A sense of competition against oneself and others around is instilled into Amercican's minds. A lot of people are coming to yoga class for the sole purpose of looking like that contorted yogi model on the billboard.

And there are others who may not even know that yoga is actually meant to be done in a comfortable, meditative state. If your first yoga class were an intense Bikram class (hot yoga) or vigorous Ashtanga class (power yoga), then you'd probably never have been exposed to the true healing and rejuvenating practice of yoga in the first place. But healing and rejuventating is just what Hatha Yoga was/is originally intended for. Hatha means sun and moon and the balance between the two. The asanas (poses) done in original Hatha Yoga classes are designed to help balance the systems of the body. Hatha Yoga isn't designed to stress or push the body like cardio or muscular exercise does. Instead, the practice is meant to be comfortable, and in the process, rejuvenate the body rather than cause it to expel tons of energy. Yoga is meant to engage the mind, allowing it to tune into the physical body, as opposed to other forms of exercise which during work-outs try to tune out the physical and mental body. (Keep in mind, these other forms of exercise are still beneficial, but are not meant to be simultaneously incorporated into the restorative practice of yoga).

And unbeknowns to an even larger amount of people are all the other sides of yoga. Aside from the physical "sport" of yoga, there are numerous other components of which help to balance the most complicated part of the body, the mind. The yoga that most people think of today was actually one of the latter parts of yoga to originate. Hatha yoga was originally designed to help one prepare for meditation. Meditation is the backbone behind yoga, and one of the most important practices to help calm and settle the mind. Once the mind stops racing and the flow of thoughts begins to slow down, one can reconnect with their true inner peace. This is yoga's ultimate goal: for one to find the peace within themselves, of which they can eventually take out with them into every breathing moment of their life. Yoga isn't meant to stress or strain anything, because these actions will only disturb the mind. In order to become universally happy, the mind must be at peace. Yoga seeks to find this peace.

The word "yoga" means union with God. God, not necessarily in the sense of a religious figure, but in the sense of your true inner peace. Everyone has "God" (inner peace) within themselves. It is our thoughts that distort this peace, presenting obstacles of which prevent us from being able to fully immerse ourselves in this peace within us. The entire practice of yoga helps to eliminate thoughts in the mind, so that we can ultimately reach this inner peace. At first, there are practices used to eliminate negative thoughts (which in turn, help to make you much more optimistic), and then eventually meditation practices are used to eliminate even the pleasurable thoughts. Pleasurable thoughts often lead to attachment of things, and attachment will inevitabley cause the mind to suffer. So yoga progressively tries to eventually eliminate all thoughts so that the mind is at a state of complete peace. Eventually, one seeks to live their life in entire peace, so that nothing in the world, good or bad, is able to disturb this peace. These people live to serve others and serve the world, living selfessly and full of contentness.

I could write forever on more in depth topics about what I have learned over the past month, but for now, I hope to have conveyed a basic overview intended to remind people (or make them aware) that yoga isn't simply about the people in pretzel-like positions displayed in magazines. Yoga is about finding peace within yourself, so that you can bring to the world your best "self", free of disturbances and negativity.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (peace, peace, peace)

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