I really want to explore the true meaning of yoga because I wholeheartedly believe it means different things to different people and that is the beauty of it…
I have been practicing yoga for over a year now and am currently undertaking my 200 hours Teacher Training Course so I’m not claiming to be a yogi expert but I would like to share what I believe yoga is really all about.
These days I’ve noticed on social media that a large emphasis is being placed on AcroYoga and the many poses and postures that require incredible strength and flexibility to perform. I enjoy looking at these pictures and aspire to learn a few of them myself but I don’t believe these images provide a fair representation behind the deep meaning of yoga.
I read an article recently from the perspective of a Yoga Teacher who said that the images posted all over Instagram and Facebook of muscular, skinny women in bikinis performing AcroYoga all over waterfalls and beautiful landscapes were providing a misguided view of what yoga is and consequently turning off many beginners who felt they needed these body types and looks to join in. It made her sad that women and men of all shapes and sizes were being put off from joining Yoga due to the pressure and insecurities these images were conveying.
I think it is safe to say that AcroYoga is not what Yoga is all about. It is definitely enjoyable practicing these poses and marvelling at what your body can achieve but there does need to be more realistic and spiritual messages pertaining to yoga so it becomes more inclusive rather than exclusive. On Instagram, I’ve been following various plus size female yogis that are proud of their curves and can still bend and make the most amazing shapes with their figures. They are truly inspirational to me and I am so glad they are continuing their practice despite living in such an image-conscious society.
To me personally, Yoga is a spiritual experience. It is a journey of self-discovery and a beautiful harmony of aligning body and mind. It is not about the end result or being able to touch your toes. It is making peace with the process and accepting that you will continue to learn more about yourself and the practice until your last breathe escapes you.
When Yoga originated in India, the physical practice of asana was not central to a yoga practice. There was more of an emphasis on meditation, pranayama and chanting. When Britain colonised India in the 18th century, the military adopted the practice of yoga and incorporated more of the modern, acrobatic poses you would see today in a Flow or Power class. Again, there is nothing wrong with this and I am training to be a Hot/Flow Yoga Teacher myself but I think we need to stop focusing so much on mastering ‘Scorpion’ and more on loving every second of the journey that is never-ending. We need to love our bodies for what they can and cannot do. When we are on our mat, we need to stay present not only in the moment but also with ourselves so we are not comparing our practice to the girl next to us who can slip into King Cobra with ease.
Nowadays, whenever I step onto my mat, I close my eyes during a posture that we are holding for a few breaths so I can feel how my body feels in the pose rather than how I or everybody else looks in the pose. I feel the muscles I’m stretching. I pay attention to my internal chatter. I sense the energy in the room. I try to take smooth, controlled inhales and exhales out through the nose. It has certainly helped keep me in the present. I have also changed the intention I set before beginning my practice. My intentions used to be ‘I am going to try and last the whole class without losing my balance’ which was not only placing a lot of pressure on myself but also taking away the fun of Yoga itself. It is okay to fall and wobble. Every time you step onto the mat it is a different experience and that is a joy in itself. Our instructors drum it into our heads that the practice of asana and meditation is about progress not perfection and that is why I believe Yoga is perfect for those types geared towards perfectionism. Not only that, but we all have entirely different skeletal structures that prevent some of us from going too deep into certain postures. Some of us favour flexion and others extension. Some of us are more strong and others more flexible. We are all different and we each bring a beautiful energy to the room when we all practice together.
Now I make it my intention to have a spiritual experience or feel gratitude towards my body for what it can do rather than what it can’t. I recognise that Savasana really is the most posture out of them all because it requires us to be still, present and observant. Everybody can practice yoga and everybody can enjoy the physical, mental and spiritual benefits. We just need to make peace with the process…
What does Yoga mean to you?