Working Out

I was teaching a woman last week who referred to her yoga practice as a work-out.  She likes to work hard, to get hot and sweaty and, I think, to feel that she has achieved something in her practice; that it has been physically worthwhile; that she will emerge with something measurable: stronger abdominals, more defined biceps, better posture.

I was aggrieved to hear my beloved yoga reduced to no more than a work out and have been considering the idea ever since; yoga is a work out, she is right, it's just that in my life and in my teaching what I see going on in yoga is a more a work out for your soul than for your body.

I have another student who likes to do strong yoga asana and enjoys the challenge of physically demanding poses.  Asana was his way into yoga and I can't judge this, because it was mine too.

He is naturally strong and powerful and I have been teaching him for years now, but the beauty in his practice is only just becoming manifest; he moves still with his characteristic strength and guts, but there is a new ease in him, a softness in his body and mind which he is only just beginning to explore; is only just ready to allow in himself.  There is less tension in his practice these days and more grace, more acceptance and openness.  It is an honour to witness such an unfolding.  I always suspected that he had a gentle heart; perhaps he will become strong enough now to let it show.

All of this brings us back to the beginning and to Patanjali, who set out the eight limbs of a yoga path thousands of years ago and whose teachings we have been following ever since.  True, asana is only third on his list, one of the soonest adopted methods of yoga, but this is necessarily so: we cannot find peace if our body is uncomfortable, we cannot be kind if we are struggling with pain, we cannot love the world if it hurts us to be in it. 

In those early days when we are simply leaping about on our mats and twisting our bodies into amazing and beautiful shapes and believing that this is an end in itself, what we are actually doing is preparing the ground for the journey to come.  Asana practice makes your body a happier place for your soul to live.  And in that sense, it is a worthwhile and rewarding work out.



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