I came to yoga at a time when I felt like my whole world was falling apart. I was straight out of college doing all the things I thought I should do. Working very successfully opening a cafe, but working 60-70 hours per week. I was in a relationship I felt I should stay in and was following a path I felt I should be on. Yoga was one of the few things in my life I chose to do. In hindsight, it may have been the only thing holding me together at that point. I came to yoga, eager to learn the poses and driven to master them. I wanted to be like the women I saw in yoga ads who could contort themselves in all sorts of interesting ways.
Seven years later, I now find myself a yoga teacher and yoga studio manager in the Seattle area. I am much happier, much more grounded, much more whole, but to this day I still cannot contort myself into most of the advanced positions you seem to only see on the cover of Yoga Journal or in yoga clothing advertisements. However, in my many years of practice, I have come to learn that wrapping your ankles around your head isn’t what its all about. Sure, its a great party trick, but in the true yogic path, the asana, or poses, are only a small part of a greater whole.
My beginning students often come to me saying they can’t wait to be great yogis. In my mind, it is often the beginners who are the best yogis. They are centered in their body, aware of their breath and totally willing to surrender into the poses. They approach their practice with “beginner’s mind” which allows a freshness that I often find is lacking in my own personal practice. I will find myself going through the sequence of poses that I know by heart and my awareness is totally gone. The true practice of yoga comes from continuing to hold that beginner’s mind while at the same time allowing the wisdom and knowledge you have learned in your practice to take you into much deeper places in the body and the mind. And all of this goes back to being fully engaged in your practice.
There is a certain aspect to striving to perfect the poses, but ultimately the discipline and perfection comes from aligning breath with body and coming completely into yourself. In essence, losing yourself in the practice in order to find yourself. In ancient yogic text they talk about this ultimate goal, but refer to it in terms much more common in traditions of meditation, such as transcending the ego. For me it became something much more simple…there are times when you dance or when you sing or when you are making love where you feel 100% in that moment—your soul is connected to that moment, not just your physical body, your mind or your emotions, but the deepest essence of yourself is involved in that act. I strive to bring that exact feeling to my practice every time I step on the mat.
With all this in mind, it becomes less important what style of yoga you choose to practice. I believe all styles will help guide you to this oneness with self and this ultimate oneness with essence. What it then comes down to is finding a practice that resonates with your physical body so that your ego mind can relax and your soul can become wrapped up in the practice. For new students, I encourage them to try various styles to see what really feels right for them. They may find they resonate with one particular style or like to try different styles, for other students it may be finding one teacher which they want to learn and grow with.
Whatever your choice, it should be a joyful act. While ultimately yoga is a spiritual practice, it is also a dance and should bring you insight, bliss and a sense of peace.