Monday, April 20, 2009

Yoga de-mystified

Today I am celebrating my one-week anniversary with yoga.

Only seven short days ago, I wandered into an upper level studio in Sturgeon Bay for a beginner’s class, stripped out of my socks, and got centered. I haven’t been the same since.

OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was an eye-opening experience.

Yoga is actually kind of difficult to explain. Perhaps that is why it rarely receives an adequate explanation in pop-culture and is instead reduced to celebrity get-fit-quick sound bytes.

Participating in one Beginner’s Yoga class hardly makes me an expert – but I would still like to take a stab at deciphering this pastime to my beloved readers. (“Hi” grandma and grandpa; thanks for reading.)

So first, here is what the dictionary says:

“Yoga: A Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility; a system of exercises practiced as part of this discipline to promote control of the body and mind.”

This definition is probably the best I could find that avoids getting to caught up in the theological and cultural intricacies of the practice, which has its roots in India and specifically, the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

What surprised me after attending my first yoga class, was how a lot of the “poses” I learned were not unfamiliar. Many of them I had already done at one time or another, but they were called “stretches,” and were given far less mystical-sounding names.

The take-away message is that yoga can be whatever you make it – just another type of exercise or something more.

The difference between yoga and other physical activities is that you have to be “present” – focused on the here and now – because you will probably fall over if you aren’t. In other physical activities, it is a lot easier to mindlessly go through the motions.

Even if you are skeptical of the other benefits yoga promises to offer, I think most of us could use the reminder to focus on the here and now and be “present” in each moment of our lives.