I’m just about as committed, or perhaps even MORE committed, to the “Why?” as anyone. I think it’s a rather good question to be asked about anything from WHY is the Nobel peace prize winner suggesting that we increase our war activities to WHY do Pittsburghers call sprinkles, “jimmies”. Or, the yoga owner gasps, WHY should anyone do yoga? Just as committed as I am to the WHY, I’m simply frustrated at the infinite number of things that I can’t seem to comprehend or the number of WHY questions that I can’t get a satisfactory answer to. Will someone just give me the satisfaction of a BECAUSE… every once in a while?
If there is one thing that I know to be true and that is that YOGA WORKS. I mean, it works for EVERYONE—children, moms, men, women, older people, teens, injured and sick, athletic and healthy, flexible, idiots and genius alike (generally subjective measurements anyway!)—–yoga works in all cases and without exception. Why? I have no idea! I’m relatively convinced that any answer is only the beginning of an answer or even a fraction of the answer. I don’t care if you got this answer by measuring brain activity, hormone levels, blood chemicals, stress level, decrease in headaches, reported relationship satisfaction, increased fertility, etc. However you get your answer to the why of yoga, it’s only part of the story. The most terrifying thing about this kind of inquiry is that I wonder how many questions I have asked and found an answer to that I really only know the fraction of—maybe WHY just isn’t the right question and every BECAUSE is merely a PERHAPS in disguise?
I can think of two reasons why yoga decreases stress, makes us feel stronger and lighter and gives us energy and a feeling of bliss and joy:
1) We are moving in the most honest of ways and using our body to express, explore and respond to the environment around us instead of privileging the BRAIN and simply dragging the body around as a useful, but mostly frustrating appendage. So many people tell me that they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible or because they aren’t “the type.” If yoga was about touching your toes, then I can assure you gentle reader that 20 million Americans wouldn’t be doing yoga! And, I might ask, who is the yoga type and how do you know it doesn’t apply to you if you never try? As you are reading this, I happen to know that you are a live human and you have a body. This being the case, you are, in fact, just the right “type” for yoga. All you need is to be breathing and have a body and yoga will work for you!
2) Yoga is a vacation. When you practice yoga, you lighten your load—you slow down the breath, you take off your shoes and socks, you notice sensations in your body and you shut up. I don’t mean that you just stop talking. I mean that you stop talking, people stop talking to you and you can finally hear yourself think. For beginners, this is a terrifying moment because when you hear yourself think for the first time you can be overwhelmed to discover just how many thoughts you are having every minute or even every second. This flood of thoughts, ideas, feelings, desires, stories and much more just flood over you and once you become aware of this you start to say, “THINKING” and return your awareness to your breath. Ahhh—now isn’t that delightful? It’s not something you can say to your boss–right? Boss sticks her head in your cubicle and starts talking really fast about some immediate emergency double secret deadline and you can’t just say, “THINKING” and turn away! But in yoga, you even get a vacation from yourself and all the trappings and trimmings you have determined as elements of that self. You lighten your load by slowing down, removing obstacles to calm and getting out of your own way. You CAN say to yourself, “THINKING.”
So try a yoga class and move your body and breathe and, well, get out of your own way!
Posted by Sharon Rudyk, Owner and Director of Yoga Matrika (https://www.yogamatrika.com/) and Prenatal Yoga Pittsburgh (http://www.prenatalyogapittsburgh.com) in Point Breeze, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15217.
I’d like to give an appropriate reference to Pema Chodron, a most wonderful writer and teacher who suggests the concept of saying “Thinking” to yourself during meditation when you start to lose your focus or awareness. My personal favorite Pema Chodron title is, “The Wisdom of No Escape,” but you can try any title for excellent meditation information and practical advice and instruction.