Ahhh, September. The start of National Yoga Month. Yet as all my fellow downward dawgs unfurl their mats to begin a month of celebration, contemplation, and meditation, I’m leaving my asana behind in New Jersey and heading to a land of not one but FOUR mountain poses: Space, Big Thunder, Splash, and Everest.
As the old saying goes, “I’m going to Disney World!”
Although I’ll still do a few hotel room sun salutations in the morning and most likely prop my achy legs up into Viparita Karani after a long day walking around World Showcase, the truth is that–for me–this first week of National Yoga Month will probably include very little yoga.
Well…let me rephrase that. It will probably include very little PHYSICAL yoga.
Unless you’re a yoga teacher, long-time student, or someone very devoted to the tenets of yoga philosophy, your vision of yoga is most likely the ol’ headstand-in-the-middle-of-the-room, foot-behind-the-head variety. The vision of yoga that makes you say, “I’m not flexible; I can’t do yoga.” The kind of yoga that requires a sticky mat, some kind of Lycra wardrobe, and either an instructional DVD or a gym membership.
But here’s the thing: That kind of yoga is only 1/8 of the practice.
The physical postures of yoga that we’re all most familiar with–termed asana in Sanskrit–is just one serving of a multiple-course meal. I didn’t know this myself until I had been taking yoga classes for about a year and was interested enough to pick up an issue of Yoga Journal, but it made sense. What had started as me taking some classes at my gym to improve my balance and flexibility gradually turned into something bigger. I felt kinder toward others after doing yoga. I developed a deeper appreciation of my body after doing yoga. I felt compelled to sit in silence and meditate and breathe after doing yoga.
Asana was the key into this wide world of yoga, a practice of not only physical postures but seven other “limbs”:
• Yamas (ethical restraints).
• Niyamas (personal observances).
• Pranayama (breath control).
• Pratyahara (sense withdrawal/control).
• Dharana (concentration/inner perceptual awareness).
• Dhyana (devotion, meditation).
• Samadhi (union with the divine).
So, as you can see, asana is just a sliver of lunchmeat in this extra-long hoagie we call yoga, which means it is very possible to still do yoga while walking the dog, doing the dishes, grocery shopping, or traveling.
I’ll never forget the way yoga became my best friend during my 3-week trip to China and Tibet in 2006. I didn’t touch a yoga mat for 21 days and never once had the floor space to even get into Downdog, but the emotional aspect of yoga, pranayama, and lovingkindness meditation completely enriched the adventure. There were so many times I could’ve gone ape sh*t, cried hysterically, or lost it completely, but I’m certain that the mental clarity and focus I cultivated from my then 2 years of asana yoga practice got me through it all and let me go with the flow–even our three days on the
pirate ship garbage barge Chinese cruise ship, where stowaways, cockroaches, and the residue of an uncleaned communal squat toilet punctuated our sweaty 72 hours out on the Yangtze.
Will I be doing Bakasana in the middle of Main Street, USA next week? Probably not. (Although man, that would make an awesome photo…!) Will I be doing yoga? You bet! In fact, I’m pretty sure I can apply all of the 10 yamas and niyamas to life inside the Magic Kingdom, and, as part of YIOM’s observance of National Yoga Month, I hope to blog about it. See what others have to say about the 8 limbs of yoga here…and then go out on a limb and see how you can incorporate a little slice of yoga lunchmeat into your life. 🙂