I have been practicing yoga faithfully for over a year now (after dabbling for five years). When I started, I never thought downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) would become a resting pose like the instructors said, but now I cherish my dogs as refocusing breaks in the rhythmic asanas. And just today I was able to touch my toes for the first time without feeling like my hamstrings were going to peel off my legs!
Yoga practice is all about the individual’s experience in that moment. It is to train me to listen to my body, to move as it the body guides. It’s not about strain or feeling the burn, but it is about challenging myself as much or little as I choose. It is about community and mutual learning, but focused on the individual, diving into my own soul to put all to rest. A successful practice is one that calms and rejuvenates at the same time because I respect my body and allow my mind to ease out of the world’s worries and expectations.
An entire gamut of emotions can course through my veins during a single practice. I can enter into a world beyond the reality of life outside the studio, and live, walk and breathe in that alternate world before returning to the life I know. Because of the nature of the stretches, any number of emotional states can pass through the body: each pose targets a line of energy and works to open the flow of that energy, similar to a visit to the acupuncturist. Depending on whether a pose focuses along the kidney meridian or liver meridian or other, I could face feelings of sensuality or anger or fear while striving for complete peace. This is where the spiritual healing aspect of yoga is undeniable. Learning to listen to the body and take hold of the emotions that arise is liberating.
I find yoga to be similar to dance in many ways: the awareness of the body’s strength and position, the graceful yet energetic flow of movement, the focus necessary to balance, the beauty of the body’s exploration of space. Just as a dancer learns the limits of her body and how to push those limits, the yogini learns control of the body, its limits and how to extend those limits.
For me personally, practicing yoga has been ultra healing both physically and psychologically. My overall health has improved as a result of my practice. I have goals (like touching my toes and mastering shoulder stands) that I am proud of achieving, and the self-respect I have earned for honoring my body is monumental. The physical openness I feel after having challenged myself in a practice mirrors the freedom I feel in my heart and mind.