That’s at least how I felt after performing an hour and a half of vinyasa and hatha poses in my late morning yoga class.
It had been the first the first time in several weeks since I continued my practice. I was like person who had suffered an accident; wheelchair-bound, unable to walk until the blessing of physical therapy helped them rediscover their steps. I had to relearn how to breathe, position, and most of all – surrender.
Physical activity and I don’t really get along that much. If it were up to me, I would spend my life in obese leisure – eating and drinking whatever I wanted while never gaining a pound. However, that is not how life works. I know all too well the ramifications of sitting on my fat ass for too long. Aside from that, my anxiety is completely out of this world. I have difficulty dealing with stress and when I do, I don’t handle it very well.
Back in high school, we never did physical activity during and I mean ZERO. Our teachers would let us sit on the bleachers while they conversed with one another. We were given the option to play basketball but being the little cliché Goth kid that I was, I refused and instead listened to the tunes of Jann Arden (who I will declare is more hippie than Goth).
Physical activity just wasn’t a priority to the school system and today I reckon it still isn’t.
While I was attending community college, I decided to become a little more active by enrolling in a twice-a-week Pilates course. Wow. I never really expected to find one class to be consistent in kicking my ass. At first, I was resistant, loathing attendance because I really preferred being lazy. However, there was one thing… one minute detail which broke my stubbornness and that was the sense of relief and euphoria I felt after each class.
I was always heartbroken to see the end of the semester. I would return to my sedentary lifestyle until another opportunity for physical activity began.
Motivation is still very difficult for me. But, when I find something that works with me, I will always return to it.
Perhaps one of the most addictive physical activities I have ever performed is yoga.
Many assume that yoga is simply stretching. 30 million people world-wide, myself included would beg to differ. For one thing, yoga focuses on alignment in a series of poses and breathing while traditional stretching doesn’t. In fact, most stretching focuses on stretching an isolated body part and yoga focuses on both stretching and strengthening.
The very word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit. What people actually do when they practice yoga are a series of “asana” which means poses. There is also a philosophical and religious movement behind the entirety of the practice. When I first started it, I was already aware of the benefits it could offer me, but I was never aware of the philosophy behind it.
Yoga’s philosophy encompasses “linking oneself with the Supreme Lord or to unite with him” (http://www.yoga-philosophy.com/). Vishnu is considered the Supreme Lord in Indian religions. However, what most don’t know about the studio yoga that we practice is something deeply rooted in Indian tradition. A 2010 New York Times article titled “Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul” introduces a campaign called “Take Back Yoga” in which Hindu groups seek to educate Western yoga practitioners about the practice is more than everyday gym work.
The campaign originated when Yoga Journal told HAF that “Hinduism carries too much baggage” that inspired the organization to begin their campaign. The HAF website promoted it’s thoughts in a paper called “Yoga Beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice” that expounds insight from B.K.S. Iyengar. He attests that ““Hatha yoga…[to be] commonly misunderstood and misrepresented as being simply a physical culture, divorced from spiritual goals…Asanas are not just physical exercises: they have biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual effects.”
The yoga debate has stirred much criticism from both yoga enthusiasts and traditional Hindus. Both Deepak Chopra and OPEN magazine’s Meera Nanda both rebuff HAF’s insistence that practitioners acknowledge yoga as something that originates in Hindu tradition. But, it isn’t just limited to that one particular religion. Buddhism and Jainism are also known to practice yoga in certain sects.
So does yoga belong solely to Hinduism?
I believe that we must be mindful of the fact that yoga is something rooted in an ancient, spiritual tradition and that it must be respected. To many, yoga is a simple exercise but one has to consider why it is perhaps one of the most popular exercises on the planet. Yoga has been proven to have positive results on both physical and mental health and in some instances, improve spiritual development.
Every time I get out of the practice, I become more tense and anxious. But, when I return to it, I feel like something or someone was waiting for me – like an old friend or lover who would eagerly embrace me after a long absence.
Yoga doesn’t belong solely to Hinduism, but I don’t think it should be treated like a gym activity either. The practice is something so much more profound than religion and ownership. If there is one thing yoga has taught me, it’s this:
" Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame. " - B.K.S. Iyengar
I died on my yoga mat which I will continue to do each and every time I practice; and each time I do, I continue my progress towards my path. I am appreciative of what the practice brings me and while I do acknowledge and respect its roots, I believe that yoga transcends religion. It is a wonderful addictive flame which consumes and makes you whole. It is not a path towards Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism. It is a unifying yourself with your mental, physical, and spiritual consciousness. It is the path towards becoming a better human being.