When I began my yoga journey nearly 20 years ago, I was searching – searching for meaning and for that which is greater than our individual selves. I read plenty of books on yoga and spirituality and I was naturally led to the practice of asana. Over the years as a student and, more recently, as a teacher trainee, I have come to understand that yoga is a path that we embark on for life. There are several ways that “life” is central to the yoga journey:
1. Prana – otherwise known as energy or life force – is an important part of the practice of yoga. Moving the body into poses and focusing on the breath opens up blocked pathways so energy can flow freely. Breath is life and bringing our attention to our breath allows us to feel this energy in the body and to be in the present moment, which is where life happens.
2. Quality of life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. There are countless benefits of moving the body into yoga poses and using the breath to move energy – a key one is to deepen body awareness. We spend so much time swept up in our thoughts and yoga helps us to move out of the mind and into the body. Through asana, we also learn about our own bodies and where the habits, tightness or weakness and energy blocks exist. We also increase our capacity for strength and flexibility and finding balance between the two. In addition, asana practice is a form of moving meditation. Training in noticing what the mind is doing and focusing on the present moment can improve mental and emotional health. Further, yoga is a journey inward toward the wise Self. Over time, we learn about our mental habits including reactivity and where we grip or resist. Opening ourselves to this awareness helps to cultivate the four limitless qualities – compassion, loving-kindness, equanimity and joy – for others and ourselves.
3. Yoga over the life course – yoga is a path that can be enjoyed from early childhood to old age. Children love moving their bodies – I see the joy in my toddler’s face when she moves into a pose. Children and adolescents can benefit from increased body awareness (and acceptance) and cultivate mindfulness and self-regulation. Throughout adulthood, we keep moving our bodies (and appreciating the benefit of props!), deepening our awareness and undoing the habits we have developed over the decades. It is never too late to start. In addition, yoga is beneficial through all phases of life. I have personally found yoga to be very helpful through grief, pregnancy and other periods of transition.
4. Student for life – we are always a student of yoga on our journey – there is always more to learn! As a new yoga teacher, I find my own practice is greatly enhanced by going through teacher training. In addition, I take my experiences as a student into my role as a teacher and find that sharing my journey helps to connect with students as they travel their own path.
The Teacher Training Program at Yoga Centre Winnipeg is a wonderful way to prepare for teaching others yoga and to deepen your own practice. As Jan said in class recently, rather than thinking of yoga as a practice, we do yoga and we live yoga. Yoga is for life.