The best kind of yoga practice is regular yoga practice. While it can definitely be beneficial to drop in from time to time, the best results come from, well, practice. Lots of it, because every style of yoga is a constant process where it seemingly never really gets easier, we just get better at it. But, at its core, what is yoga?
Yoga can be best thought of a process of detachment. Deepak Chopra, paraphrasing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, says that no longer identifying with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that cause us emotional pain will open us to our true selves. Okay, great. So yoga is about ignoring what’s going on around us? Not really.
What he means is that the less we personalize what we believe is happening to us, e.g. saying “this hurts” instead of “I hurt”, the more equipped we’ll be to withstand the emotional roller coaster that is being human. Personally, I like to think of my yoga practice as training to watch my thoughts float by – like I’m on a shore watching items bob past – instead of constantly jumping in to ‘fix’ or experience those thoughts for myself.
Most of us, whether we like it or not, are stuck in the past. We based our future decisions by what we already know and what’s already happened, and we too often long for the days when things were better. Or we’re constantly thinking about what could be, perpetually imagining a future different from the present, where we’ll finally feel like we’ve made it.
All of that is wasteful, because the only control we really ever have is right now. Meaning RIGHT now, like this word you’re reading now and these other words you’re reading right now. We can’t do a damn thing about anything beyond the current moment, a point Eckhart Tolle makes over and over again in The Power Of Now – a fantastic book whose audio form was most helpful to me, but not recommended if you’re tired while driving. Tolle and yoga practice preach the same basic thing: only be concentrating on the current moment can you ever feel your authentic self, and in only that way can you ever be truly happy.
Beyond the emotional/mental benefits, regular yoga is the antidote for long days sitting on chairs in front of computers, walking around on hard floors, or constantly cleaning up after others. From helping specific joints become more flexible – we could all use less stiff hips – to lengthening our hamstrings to prevent lower back pain, yoga is instrumental to any kind of self improvement.
There’s also a dark side to watch out for, according to David Surrenda. Writing for the New York Times in 2012, he likens too much focus on outward self improvement to a “narcissism which is not uncommon in many sports…the results of an emphasis on [physical] exercise that misinterprets what the real intention of yoga practice is.” But this kind of negativity first requires a ton of daily yoga practice, so let’s file this under something to watch out for and ignore it for now. Besides, looking physically great thanks to yoga is a helluva fun reward for a lot of hard work, ya know?
Yoga retreats are excellent opportunities to either expand or start a regular yoga practice, as experienced healers can help people of all levels move past blockages and/or show them a different perspective on the same ol’ poses. See you in the now!