Yoga is so much more than the fancy poses many think of when they hear the word. Yoga can be meditation. Yoga can be breath work. Yoga can be selfless service. It took me a while to learn that, and longer yet to understand it. What I love about yoga is that no matter who you are, you can find a yoga that is right for you. There’s this wonderful saying:
“Yoga is for everybody and for every body.” -Unknown
I really wish I could remember my first yoga class. Maybe it was at a gym in central Florida. I do remember going to a class that was called “hot yoga” at the community center, already knowing some basics. According to my Facebook feed, I was regularly going in 2009. It was “hot yoga” because the sequence was Bikram, but the instructor wasn’t classically trained and the environment wasn’t quite regulation. My goal there was to compliment my running regimen with flexibility.
When I moved to northern Virginia in 2011, I found a wonderful yoga studio. I started out with a Core Focus class (“hard core, yoga light” aerobic-type class) once a week. Running was no longer good for my legs and feet, so I was looking for a good workout. My attendance there was somewhat spotty and added a few occasional vinyasa yoga classes until I signed up for an unlimited membership in 2015. Somewhere between 2011 and 2015, I started to realize the benefits of the mental concentration in yoga. Meditation helped me focus, quiet my mind, and added a new aspect to my practice both on and off the mat. Finding peaceful stillness in the DC Metro rush-hour traffic is invaluable.
Toward the end of 2016, I got much more involved with the studio. I started volunteering at the front desk and signed up for 2017’s yoga school to become an instructor. This is when the spiritual side of yoga started to sink in. I was going through some personal issues, asking life questions. I came up with my own answers then later learned about it in yoga school. This is where I found home.
Without knowing it, I followed the same path as yoga throughout its history. My dates below will vary by source, but a rough idea of the four major time periods:
- Vedic Period (3500 BC to 1000 BC): A period of physical practice. Coming from Brahmanism, a early form of Hinduism, this age of yoga explored the what: they said “go do.” The Vedas are influential texts of this time, containing hymns and sacrifice.
- Pre-Classical (1000 BC to 200 AD): With the Buddhist influence, this period examined meditation and started to ask why. The mystical and philosophical teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads came from this era.
- Classical (200 to 1850): Realizing the immortal self, this period investigated the how and developed practitioners spiritually. The Eight Fold Path contained within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was released during this period which describe the path to the Divine.
- Post Classical (1850 to 1960): Yoga was finding the where, becoming adopted around the world. Accept and live was a main theme of the era, and contemporary and modern disciplines began forming.
My path has been and will be just that—my path. Any one else’s is different. Could one only focus their practice on the physical aspect and not dive into the “hippy-dippy yoga mumbo-jumbo”? Of course! What if you just want to learn to focus and meditate? Have at it! How about just studying the spiritual side? Do what works for you. There are many things that yoga is, and bending your body into a physically challenging shape is only one of them.