I started practicing yoga when it was still fairly new in my country. I was curious to learn more about what was considered at that time a strange and sort of “hippie” Eastern philosophy. I was also very intrigued about the complex postures and movements and how they could actually affect my state of mind. More than a decade ago, you would have to do quite extensive research to find a teacher who could provide you with knowledge regarding this subject. It demanded a good effort on your part so you didn’t need reasons to start practicing, you were already looking for it. Those of us who started practicing yoga back then did it because we knew there was something deep inside of us calling us to explore more about the vast world of yoga.
Some practitioners (before my generation) traveled thousands of miles off the beaten path to find their guru. They left their comfortable lives and ventured into hidden corners of India to find and live amongst their teachers who imparted upon them their knowledge and techniques. It is because of those devoted students (now senior and well respected teachers) who, more than two decades ago, ventured into the unknown to explore the discipline of yoga, and later came back to spread the word, that this practice has become accessible for all of us here in Costa Rica.
In my personal opinion, this discipline spread into the Western world when it was most necessary. I believe that we need yoga now more than ever, but our lives are moving too fast to even realize it. I can think of a thousand reasons to start practicing yoga, but here are the three main ones that I consider the most important.
1. Because we need to SLOW DOWN
Not too long ago I read an article about “the new disease of being too busy”, this piece pretty much summarized what we can all relate to during our adult lives: we are too busy with our “to-do list,” so much so that we completely forget about the fact that life is way more than that, that maybe we are here to enjoy the beauty of life, to be present and enjoy every step of it as much as everyday’s little seemingly ordinary events. The practice of yoga, regardless of what method we choose, has the intention to allow your body and mind to slow down and be more present. So we can find more enjoyment in everything we are doing, whether it is working, playing, or resting.
To cultivate the habit of being present allows us to continue with the same duties and activities of our daily lives but with a different state of mind. We stop doing things on autopilot just because we want to scratch them from our “to-do list” and we start doing things with presence, recognizing the importance and meaning of everything we do. Maybe instead of trying to accumulate more material things on our list, we focus our attention on doing the things that matter, that will allow us provide a good service to the world and at the same time enhance the quality of our lives. We will then be more concerned about quality instead of quantity, so we are not running through life hurrying to accomplish our tasks, but instead we make sure we slow down enough to take time to listen to each other and to pay attention to the beauty of every moment we are experience. To notice how we feel inside, and to perform in our lives with a sense of gratitude for just being alive.
2. Because STRESS creates serious damage in our bodies and in our lives
Many of the benefits of yoga can take years, if not decades, to fully notice. But one of the greatest, most immediately beneficial aspects we may notice is how quickly a regular yoga practice can reduce the level of stress accumulated in our bodies.
According to the yoga philosophy, our bodies are the memories of our experiences, emotions, and thoughts. By performing the physical practice of asanas (what we recognize as yoga in the modern world), we remove toxins, impurities, and built-up emotions from the body.
There are some aspects of the yoga practice that can take decades to understand and will require a deep study. But one of the elements of the practice we can access and account for almost instantly is the fact that this practice can provide a better night of sleep, sense of calmness to deal with our daily challenges, and a reduction of our levels of stress and anxiety.
3. Because we need more COMPASSION and KINDNESS in this world
I like to describe the practice of yoga as a tree with many branches and leaves, and the asanas are just one of those branches.
Yoga is a journey to find peace within. Meditation, Pranayam (breathing techniques), and knowledge of the philosophy are also very important ingredients in the recipe. The philosophy combined with the practice invites us to reconnect with that sense of internal peace, and to recognize the great source of compassion and kindness we all carry inside.
We follow the news just to feel sad and depressed about how much conflict, anger, hate, and resentment there is in this world. And we feel powerless. Maybe there’s not much we can do if we are too far away from the situation, but surely we can at least cultivate compassion in our lives and make a conscious effort to deal with every daily conflicts with a sense of tranquility and kindness.
Lest we forget the physical benefits…
So, those are my three main reasons. Perhaps you were waiting for the part where I mention all the incredible physical benefits that yoga can provide: more flexibility and balance, stronger muscles, or a leaner body. But I felt that information has already been spread far and wide and if you have attended even one class, perhaps you already realized that.
But here is the thing: yoga came from the East and from a different time when body obsession was not a thing. I don’t believe Yogananda or Krishnamacharya (some of the fathers of modern yoga) meant to teach this practice in order to make us more physically beautiful. And to be honest, I think we have had enough of that.
Maybe we want to improve our looks to feel better about ourselves, but the nice thing about this practice is that it makes us feel more comfortable in our bodies regardless of its shape. The intention of the practice was to not to give us a flat belly and strong biceps, but a compassionate heart and mental serenity. It’s not so much about looking better, but actually about feeling better, so we treat each other (and every living creature) with all the respect and love they deserve. And also, to treat ourselves with the love and respect that we deserve!
Aren’t these good reasons to start a yoga practice? I hope so!