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Yes, you do need Yoga!


Photo: Osahon Okodugha

Photo: Osahon Okodugha

Imagine meeting someone for the first time; greetings and brief pleasantries are exchanged, followed by the question that determines how long you’ll stick around for a conversation, “what do you do?”

When I was growing up, I never expected my answer to be, “I teach and practice yoga”.

Most times, this answer is not enough. The questioner has more questions – “Is that all you do? Teach yoga in Lagos? Wow, Why?!” Questions about teaching yoga full time no longer surprise me; shock creeps in after round three when pretenses drop and the following responses finally surface – the breakthrough:
1. “I always wanted to try yoga”, and 2. “I can’t do yoga because “I’m not flexible”, “my belly is too big”, “I’m too old”, “I’m not strong enough”, “yoga is a religion”, so on and so forth.

Yoga helps us to explore and unveil realities. The type of limitations we place on ourselves, without actual experience from what we are distancing ourselves from, is a reflection of how we respond to life – fearfully. Think about it: how often do you suppress or discount an experience without discovering it for yourself? Where do beliefs about what you can’t do stem from and why has the belief grown tentacles for you to voice fear out loud?

Let’s talk candidly about what yoga is and why you need it.
The good news is you’re inquisitive enough to read beyond the title of this article to know why you need to practice yoga. Your willingness to go deeper is a sure sign that yoga is for you – you’re audacious enough to explore. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if you tell me you thought yoga is about stretching only. At first glance, you’re probably thinking yoga is for Westerners, the “Oyinbo” who twist and turn their body into abnormal shapes and sizes. There is a bit of truth to your initial assessment. However, yoga is much more than this.

The word yoga is derived from the Sansksrit root yuj meaning to bind, yoke, or concentrate your attention. Yoga means union; the yoking and disciplining of all the powers of body, mind and soul, which enables you to look at life in all its aspects evenly. When the mind is still and freed from restless desire through the practice of yoga, you will begin to discover fulfillment. You’ll visualize and feel unshakable inner peace when your intellect, emotions and physical self are synchronized and operating as one. Pure bliss!

Instant gratification has a way of clouding our judgment. We tend to believe everything good about life is meant to happen immediately, constantly and simultaneously. But what if it doesn’t. What if we remain caught up in a web of illusions that keep us away from experiencing a diverse range of ideas, emotions and physical movement that provide the awakening needed to achieve our goals and desires? Would you still feel fulfilled, knowing you’ve only scratched the surface? Most likely not, but that’s the beauty of yoga. You get to push beyond limitations and explore.

Exploration tends to lead to deeper questions, and deep insight unveils an undiscovered layer of Self. Imagine the joy of finding out something new about yourself, on your own. This reason, along with many others, is why you need to practice yoga. To go deep within yourself and discover more than you thought existed yields an “ah-ha” moment that is unmatched.

Media portrayal often highlights what resonates with the masses, and yoga seems to fit in nicely with fitness. Body movement is one component of yoga. There’s also the alignment of the mind, heart and breath that need to unite with the body to experience the holistic benefits of yoga.

Yoga is beyond physical poses and the ability to touch your toes. When I first started practicing in 2005, I couldn’t touch my toes, but the practice to get there is where I found the most reward. Now that I’ve moved beyond touching my toes, I’m enthusiastic about my next discovery, the learning after that one, and the rest to come.

The progress and self-inquiry that occurs on the yoga mat is parallel to life’s journey. In the midst of each stage, we evolve and obtain strength and lessons needed to be successful in the next phase of life.

At the start of my practice, I was anxious and exhausted. Life was throwing all types of obstacles my way. I was strong, but not flexible. I was intelligent, but not asking deeper questions. I had never turned upside down, and I certainly couldn’t hold up my body weight using my upper body strength. It was impossible for me to do a push up without gasping for air. I felt defeated. I realized that the way I responded to each pose was the same response I had to life’s obstacles. Today I’m stronger than ever, inside and out. I can’t imagine being aware of the potential to evolve and yet choosing to remain constant or even regress.

Often times we’re not moving forward because we haven’t yet accumulated the necessary skills for the next round. It’s difficult to experience the next phase when we haven’t started or embraced the journey.

However, everyone starts somewhere, most likely at the beginning. It doesn’t matter if you’re not flexible, strong or able to sit still today. Today’s journey is not the end, it’s merely a glimpse into the full story. How confused are you when you read a book in the middle without having an understanding of the foundation established in the beginning by the author? The same approach applies to yoga. We need yoga because the practice prepares us for situations that will influence how [or if] we will shift mentally, emotionally and physically.

Here are three profound and simple ways to relax and start your yoga journey:
The Body –  Establish a practice of conscious breathing whereby your inhale is the same length as your exhale. Let your breath take you into the body. Close your eyes and visualize your breath. Feel your breath. Focus on the feeling of your breath while you fill up your abdomen on the inhale and release the breath through your nose on the exhale.

The Heart – Observe your body’s energy in motion. Notice how sounds, comments or happenings around you reveal an energetic shift. You’ll know it’s a shift because your mood changes. Just observe.

The Mind – Practice conscious breathing. It’s an incredible approach to meditation, which puts you in touch with the body and heart. Meditation is the observation of silence to calm the mind. Observe the activities of your mind – thoughts, comparisons, and speculations without judgement. Relax and observe.

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