Your Yoga Practice Beyond Physical Asanas

By Gina Southern, Karma Yogi

There, having the mind actively focused upon a single point, with thought and sense activity controlled,

Sitting on a seat, one should practice yoga for purification of the self.

With an aligned body, head, and neck-keeping these steady, without movement.

Focusing the vision toward the tip of one’s nose without looking about in any direction.

- Bhagavad Gita 6.12 - 13

Yoga isn’t about YOU.  Ok, well it IS about you, but it’s so much denser than that. Yoga is all of you and none of you all at once.  Yoga isn’t about sweating profusely, and it’s not about how toned your calves are.  And it certainly isn’t about whether or not you can do a better headstand than your neighbor on the mat next to you. And when you fully realize this idea, it is a paradigm shift.  It took me many years to realize this (and hello, I’m so still learning!).  Actually, I was forced to realize this upon health challenges I faced in the last few years and a slew of studios that left a bad taste in my mouth.  Those things made me step away from my mat and really reevaluate my practice.  And what a blessing that was because without those a-ha moments, I’d still be wondering how my ass looked in my forever 21 spandex pants (I know, you all expected me to say my Lululemon pants or something like that, but don’t get it twisted, I may have been doing yoga for the wrong reasons for a very long time, but I NEVER thought it was ok to spend $100 on pants I’m just gonna sweat in. #truth).  Can I use a hashtag in a blog?  Well, I just did so, now it’s a thing. #Blogtag.

So, back to my point, yoga isn’t necessarily what most of us think it is.  Often when we hear the word “yoga,” we think of static physical postures like Downward Dog or Warrior I.  But what if yoga wasn’t about the pose at all? What if the postures were more like illustrations of the breath?  What if your practice could take you to a place that was so deeply hypnotizing, you simply forgot about comparing yourself to your fellow yogis, to your teachers and yoga celebrities, and even to yourself at maybe a time when your “yoga game was on point”?  Well, ladies and gents, that is possible AND, drumroll please, that is when true yoga happens! The mystery to life, huzzah! Ok, well maybe not the mystery to life, but a pretty damn good way to make your yoga practice count as more than just your cardio for the week.  It counts for so much more, and the physical asanas are just the tip of the iceberg.  Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing myself challenged physically, and I love when I have noticed progress from all of my hard work, but if that is all yoga was do you know what it would be called? EXERCISE. I know, mind-blowing right?  Well, seriously it might be! Most of us really don’t explore the “other” stuff for myriad reasons.  Maybe you don’t want to convolute your physical practice, maybe the philosophy stuff scares you, or maybe you haven’t ever been introduced to the teachings of yoga and all you know is that some teachers chant “OM” at the beginning of a class and you’re left sitting there feeling like an asshat because you have zero clue what the hell is going on. These are just a few reasons few on the western side of the world delve into the beauty and complexity of what yoga truly can be.

We must learn to understand that the breath IS the movement, and we do not need any more or any less than that.  You can be in the same pose for 5 min and think you are not doing yoga because you’re not moving and sweating, but that IS yoga.  When your mind stops thinking about what you’re making for dinner, that is yoga.  When your mind stops telling you you can’t do something; when your mind hits a wall in a pose because you’ve challenged your body, and most importantly you’ve challenged your MIND so much you forget you’re even in a pose, forget you’re in a class, and maybe even forget what day of the week it is. If you’ve come to that place in a pose, well, I dare you to try and compete with your fellow yogi on the mat beside you.  YOU CAN’T!!!  When you’ve connected your breath to your mind and to your movement, the physical desires to be perfect and to be the best simply float away and you can truly, authentically benefit from what you are doing.  Don’t get me wrong, every time you leave the house and get into your car, drive to your favorite studio and step on your mat and do physical asanas, that is still very much yoga. You’ve chosen to carve out a sacred space for yourself.  You’ve chosen to be a part of a practice with others who have made the same choice.  The choice to be better to yourself, and to be better to those around you.  Those things are wonderful and should be honored.  But the even MORE wonderful thing is that every single time you come to your mat, there is an opportunity for yoga to be more than it was the day before.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  An opportunity to see past the physical, past the judgment and competition, and past the poses and yoga clothes.  Every single time there is a brand spanking new opportunity to learn something more, to grow and become more conscious, and to connect in new, deeper ways to your breath, your mind, and your spirit.  And most of all, connect to this amazing, spinning sphere of energy we call earth.  Challenge yourself today. But not just in the physical sense, as that comes the easiest.  Feel the ground, smell it. Heck, taste it. Recognize today that yoga is indeed not “about” you, it IS you.