I’m a bit sick of it: Yoga being sold as a technique for this or that, hard abs, firm buns, weight loss or (does this one get you, too?) stretching. There’ve been more studies recently than ever before showing yoga is an excellent fitness tool, helps to stabilize weight, increase awareness, yoga is… gasp! … good for you!
Yes! Yoga is good for you! It will, in fact, change your body. Yes, you can use a yoga class for a cardio workout if you choose well. Yes, you will stretch. Yes, you will weight bear in ways to which you aren’t used. Yes, it will change your life.
Like so many things, though, our fitness goals are best reached sometimes not by obsessing over them or even aiming at them. Aristotle made the radical assertion, which I believe to be true, that the best way to be happy is not to try to be happy: it’s to aim to good. Now, we can talk about what it is to be good, but happiness is tiresomely known to be ellusive and complex. To be excellent (which is what Aristotle thought goodness came to) requires awareness, objectivity, reflection, practice and time.
There’s a certain business coach who suggests yoga teachers “build their business” by promising detailed body-centered results. The problem with this approach is that it not only assumes what your body should look like, but makes that the bar to which you measure your practice. That is many things, some of them useful, but it is not yoga.
Yoga is the opposite of what your body looks like – it’s feeling your body from the inside out. Yoga is about imagination used to investigate your body, mind and heart – your self. Your body will change, as will your heart and mind. You may set goals, and this can be clarifying. But be open for your goals to change. Be open to realize you had goals you didn’t know about. Be open to a state of mind without goals.
When we set an intention in yoga class, it is not a goal as in “I will lift higher in Bakasana today.” It is an offering: what do you want to set your practice at the feet of? What makes you feel small and significant, that is to say, part of something meaningful? If your practice was a magic wand you could use once, what wish would you grant? World Peace? End of Hunger? Union with God? Set it there, the whole thing, and dive in, with your whole body: every muscle, every thought, every fat cell, every jiggle. Dive in and be yoga.