Today is Summer Solstice AND National Yoga Day!
To be honest, I think it’s kind of weird that we have a “National Yoga Day”, but then again there is a day for everything now a days. So, why not yoga?
Yoga has done so much for me in the last fifteen plus years. So much that when I look back, a gazillion thoughts go racing through my head, and I find myself a little unsure where to focus and settle in.
But what can yoga truly do for you?
Where do you begin?
Where does yoga begin?
Where did yoga start?
In a gym?
On a yoga mat?
What is yoga?
To answer that I went back to the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali (third century B.C.E) and the VERY FIRST word in the Yoga Sutra is “atha” which translates to “now”.
Right here, right now, in this moment.
Wherever you are, whomever you are, no judgement.
No yoga mat needed, just the presence of your being.
Yoga begins in the present moment…Yoga IS the present moment.
I’ve been there, on my yoga mat, trying to create something, trying to create a moment that others will say “wow” to, a moment worthy of the status of “yogi”.
But I have discovered, the second we start down that path, we lose yoga’s true essence.
I often discuss with my students, while standing at attention in Warrior II, that the back hand symbolizes keeping the past in the past, and the front hand, the future in the future. All of this while they (we) stand present in this very moment. In this moment, in all their feelings, all their sensations, in all that currently is.
And if you compare these first words in the Yoga Sutras to most practitioners’ definition of yoga (to unite) as Michel Stone puts it, “we turn yoga into something one does, a form of willful activity”.
Stone goes on to passionately point out that we have now confused YOGA with the “doing” of yoga.
Much like one says, “I’m going to yoga”, or “yoga was so hard today”, or “yoga is too easy”.
And is it that we have now confused the techniques of yoga with the “experience” of yoga.
The first time I heard this it rocked my world. I immediately stepped back and dropped my mat and sat to the ground in deep thought. Replaying the words back in my head again and again.
It was a reminder that yoga is not something we seek outside ourselves. And in a culture desperate (yes, I used the world desperate) for true meaningful connections. Sadly, we will not find them outside ourselves, we may not even find them “doing yoga”. Because for many, yoga has become more about mastering the pose, then connecting with their inner master.
Don’t Just “Do” Yoga
I say to my students’ time and time again, that it’s about taking it off the mat into your everyday life.
And my classes may not be led to the tune of modern funky music, and I may not wear the most fashionable clothes or always push in the way of a boot camp style, but the desire for my students to create a meaningful connection within is always the forerunner of my teachings.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for yoga. Not because it keeps me in shape or flexible, but because yoga, repeatedly, has asked me to step into the present moment. Offering me forgiveness to my own self as I would be guided to step out of the looming darkness of my unforgiving past and away from the anxiety of the unknown future and into the small morsel of the present moment.
And it was in that small moment that I found peace. Not because of the pose I was in, or the music played, or what other poses I had already mastered. But rather I had fully understood for a small moment in time, what it meant to be in the “now”.
It is when we fully commit to such a practice (the now not yoga) that we finally begin to understand what yoga is asking us to do.
Practice the Present Moment
And we cannot do that when everything around us is so loud to hear.
We cannot do that when our focus is on what we did or what is next.
We can only do that when we truly understand that yoga IS the present moment.
It is not a tangible practice or even an object to be seen. But rather one to be experienced only when all else is stripped away.
Today it is National Yoga Day. I want to encourage you to not just step onto your mat to strike a pose, sweat yesterday’s indulgences out, instead, truly bring “Atha yogausasanam” to life (in the present moment is the teachings of yoga).
From my heart to yours,
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post them in the comments below.
PS Want to read more amazing teachings from the late Michael Stone. Start with this amazing book!