I’d like to clarify something that’s been bothering me:
Stretching is not yoga.
Ok, sure, stretching is undeniably a part of yoga. But most people outside of the tight community of self-proclaimed yoga-fanatics don’t realize that there’s a whole lot more to this ancient practice than learning to touch your toes.
The way people talk about yoga nowadays one would assume the practice consists entirely of flexibility-enhancing aerobics with a little gymnastics mixed in, aimed only at strengthening and stretching the physical body.
But the word “yoga” is actually a Sanskrit word that is the origin of our word “to yolk”.
Thus, yoga’s aim is to the deepen connection and union between all things, the physical body, spiritual body, self and other, community, environment, and beyond.
Originally intended as a vehicle to help carry the practitioner to an experience of union with the entirety of the Universe, yoga’s movements and poses, also known as “asana,” were designed to keep people’s body’s limber and healthy so they could tolerate sitting in meditation for long stretches of time, no pun intended.
(Not to mention the myriad of other forms of yoga practice, but I don’t want to get off topic.)
If you have ever gone to a yoga class you know that you are sometimes guided into some very uncomfortable and awkward positions.
In addition to opening up physical restrictions in your body, these poses are, in fact, simultaneously a practice for facing the discomforts we all inevitably experience in life.
But it goes deeper than that.
When you practice yoga regularly you start to see the world differently.
By practicing how to adapt to unfavorable circumstances, focusing on compassion and patience for yourself and others, and learning to relax under stressful conditions, every time you step on the mat you are rewiring your brain to strengthen those skills that are essential to living a truly fulfilling and vibrant life.
Eventually, you notice that you’re practicing yoga off the mat as well; little things will stop bothering you so much, you start to feel true appreciation for your own capacities and limitations, as well as for others, and you find it a lot easier to laugh at yourself.
Sure you’ll become more bendy, and with a regular practice your body will feel awesome more often than not. But to say that yoga is the same as stretching is to deny all the other -far more important- benefits that yoga can provide.
What’s your experience with yoga? Tell us about it in the comments section.