The physical practice of yoga with it’s different bodily postures, meditation, and breathing exercises has so many amazing and powerful benefits. The benefits, which are mentioned a lot, are a strong and flexible body and a calm mind. Many of us have heard of these benefits and they all sound great and feel good to the ones who practice. For me though there is something much deeper and stronger than just strengthening and lengthening the body and feeling calmer: embodiment.
In the yoga practice we learn to get out of our mind and into our body. In the world many of us live in the mind is constantly being polluted through pressure, expectations, and evaluations. Allowing these things to affect us triggers thoughts, worries, and stress, and takes us out of the body into a false mind. The polluted mind overrides bodily sensations and we push ourselves further and further. Sometimes until we lose almost all of our energy. In addition to that, constantly being in the mind and not feeling the body can also lead to a distorted body image. Instead of noticing whether we feel good in our body and whether our body, pure mind, and soul are healthy we judge our being with these thoughts running through our mind. If we don’t know how to detach from the thoughts and get in touch with our real self, these thoughts are most of the time automatically being shaped by our social surrounding, friends and family, by the media, and the culture we live in. Our real self does not shape it. This creates unrest within us. We try to live up to the expectations of a false mind run by the outside and keep feeling uncomfortable within our body, because it does not fulfill the standards this false mind created. At times we are so distracted and surrounded by all these thoughts that we can barely differentiate the false thoughts and the pure mind, the expectations and distractions, and our real self.
The yoga practice offers an opportunity to help you to slowly unwire all these thoughts, detach them from your self and to be able to observe these thoughts through the real self. This will lead to a calmer and clearer mind and allow you to truly be in your body, to feel it, and to connect all parts of your being. The word yoga means union and in the practice we aim to unite our mind, body, and soul, all parts of our being. We are not made up of separate parts, but interconnected parts. These connections are never broken, but rather distracted until we dissolve these blockades. So in the yoga practice we don’t create anything new, but we take off the layers we have put on over the years.
Yoga has such a high potential for embodiment as the focus is on facing our body, our thoughts, and ourselves. We can’t escape the reality in this practice and this is also why it might be scaring away some people at the beginning. We are asked to carefully scan the body and be in each posture as deeply as we can on that very day and with comfort. There are no external weights or anything like that, but only the mat and ourselves. The mat somewhat becomes this calming space. We can take it anywhere we want, roll it out, and immediately have created a little corner, which is ready to be used for breathing, moving, and stillness, basically a space for the self.
This benefit of yoga can be experienced in self-practice even more than in a led class. In a led class we have the teacher talking us through the postures and telling us how long to stay in them, which is a great option as well. Self-practice however, takes the experience to an even more intimate level with the self, maximizing the potential of embodiment to the fullest.
Even in the yoga world people sometimes forget what it’s really about. It starts to be all about reaching a posture, looking the best, comparing the self to others, and ignoring the feeling when in the posture. The practitioner doesn’t know when to stop, sit down and rest. Yoga then becomes just a gymnastics class, motivated by the distracted mind.
Practicing yoga is no guarantee for embodiment. Your mindset and approach guarantees the benefit. Approaching your practice with an openness, the wish to truly do good to yourself (and not secretly thinking about how you look, whether this is too female as a men, how many calories you will burn in the practice, or where you could take the next yoga picture), and enjoying the moment will allow you to be present in your body even in the very first yoga classes in your life. If we approach the practice with such an attitude the asanas (bodily postures) will do their work automatically and take us into the body.
I hear many people who have not practiced yoga before saying that they are too stiff or are not able to stay calm for a full class. Having read the above you now know that these arguments are complete nonsense. Flexibility is an outcome of the bodily postures, but not a prerequisite. Feeling restless is a reaction to a mind that is full of noise and possibly a body that has already been negatively affected by it. So that would mean that yoga is the perfect practice for you. You don’t need to start with a 1.5 hours class, but maybe with 10 minutes a day. A yoga practice is not defined by the length of the practice, the depth of the stretch, or the degree of your strength, but by the calmness of your mind.
‘When the mind is calm, the asana is perfect.’ – Patthabi Jois
Remember to try to distance yourself from the thoughts during your practice, only observing them, not allowing them to take over. If you allow your distracted mind to take over, you won’t be in your body and you won’t be able to notice the need for or the full benefit of a yoga practice. Your false mind can then take over and tell you that yoga is definitely not for you, because you don’t fulfill the ‘criteria of a yogi’. These ideas are all created by the false mind, because the pure mind knows what is good for you and is longing for embodiment, as this is our natural state of being.
With the help of the yoga practice, we allow our body to speak to us. This is a huge switch as many of us allowed our distracted mind to dictate our mind and body for a long time. Especially if you just started your yoga practice be patient with yourself. Maybe you already practice for longer, but the practice was shaped by your thoughts and not by your real self or your body, so gently shift the focus. Slowly allow yourself to get into your body and allow the true self to be revealed. If you rush or evaluate the process you’ll be in this false mind once again. So use every practice as a practice, not a performance.
I hope that this post awakens your longing to be in your body and feel the connection of all parts of your being. Maybe it motivates you to visit a yoga class for the first time, more regularly for those who have tried it already, or more mindful for those who are practicing regularly.
Wishing you a beautiful day,