The word Yoga in Sanskrit is ‘yug’ – to yoke or bind or it means ‘union’ of the breath, body, mind and spirit. Most of us in the west come to yoga through the physical practice or physical postures of yoga, which is also known as asana. Over the years, many of us lose our connection to our bodies. One such example is when we go to the gym and go through the motions of a physical workout – we hop on the treadmill, turn our music up and do our best to get away from what we are actually doing with our body. We pay little attention to how we are actually moving it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do, but sometimes this inattention can bring injury to the body, or a feeling of being disconnected. Yoga is the opposite. We simply become mindful of what we are doing and how we are doing it. We breathe and notice how we breathe, and we notice how we breathe as we begin to move. By connecting our outer (physical) body with our inner body (thoughts and emotions) through our breath, we can notice where our mind is. And it is our Yoga practice where we create space for all this to happen.
Where Do We Start?
We all come from different places, and we can be at different places in our lives at different times. Quite simply, we always START WHERE WE ARE. Each time we get on our mats, we meet ourselves where we are- wherever and whoever that happens to be – and we simply start there. Maybe yesterday we could touch our toes, but today we can only get half way down. We don’t judge ourselves based on what we can or can’t do, or what we feel or don’t feel. Just let all that go, and begin without expectation for anything to happen so we can just experience the practice. Feeling comfortable, supported in a safe environment is also essential as we begin.
What to Expect in a Typical Class
Arrive a few minutes early if you are new to the class, introduce yourself and inform the instructor of any previous or recent physical injuries so that he or she may offer suitable modifications. Once the class starts, it is proper etiquette to remain quiet and attentive. Part of a yoga practice is turning our focus or attention inward. If you are confused or feel overwhelmed at all during the class, you can wave the teacher over so he or she may come to you with minimal disruption. Or if it passes you might wait until the end of the class if you have any questions or comments to share about your experience.
Centering and Opening – this is the beginning of the practice where we sit and simply arrive in the room and become present. We bring our attention to our breath, and perhaps set a personal or collective intention for the practice. Warm Up – we start to bring a little movement into the body. We gently move our spine in all directions, get comfortable in our body and we ease into our practice. And we breathe.
Postures and Movement – After we warm up we start to increase a little heat in the body. We move our body dynamically into postures or shapes, and we may hold a particular posture for a set time, say for 3-5 breaths, or 1-2 + mins for longer holds. We want to be able to breathe comfortably and also at the same time feel some effort or steadiness in our body. Alignment cues are given to help guide us as we transition and arrive safely. And to also help us become self-aware. A well rounded class might include sun salutations to further warm the body after the initial spinal warm up, standing & balancing postures, backbends, twists and forward bends or folds.
Savasana – this is the final resting pose and something that differentiates a yoga practice from just a physical workout. We simply lie down in a comfortable position on our mat and become quiet and still. This allows us to ‘absorb’ the practice and our ‘experience’ of the practice into our system. Our parasympathetic nervous system now has an opportunity to slow and calm down for a few minutes while we chill out. This isn’t always easy, sometimes it can be the most difficult part of the practice for many of us- to slow down and just stop. But over time as we become comfortable with the practice, it becomes something we can look forward to.
End or Closing- After savasana, a short story, poem or inspirational quote might be shared before the class is over. The word Namaste may be shared, and signals the end or seals the class. Nama means bow; as means I; and, te means you. Thus, I bow to you. Or another common translation is, “The light in me honors the light in you.”