I first stepped into a Yoga class in the 1990s before it became a "lifestyle". So, I wasn’t yet aware of the whole “Yoga Culture” that seems to be so predominant now. I just thought I’d get a good flexibility-enhancing workout. What I did not expect was to have my whole outlook on life shift drastically.
Many people know what I’m alluding to here. I don’t know anyone who expects to feel a sudden pull to read the ingredients on shampoo bottles, use all-natural cleaning products and eat only organic GMO-free produce after a Spinning class. But we do hold some understanding that this “could” very feasibly happen to anyone who goes to Yoga.
It’s like you step into a Yoga class as a relatively normal functioning member of society and you walk out as a conscious being aware of every carbon footprint made on our delightful Mother Earth.
Why does Yoga have this element that no other workout seems to have?
It is in part due to the fact that Yoga is much more than a “workout". In fact, it is mostly a meditational practice on how to master the art of living.
There are 8 limbs of Yoga. One of which involves the physical workout, and that is known as “Asana”, a Sanskrit word meaning "posture" or "pose". It is the reason why all the Sanskrit names for poses end in -asana (Trikonasana, Uttanasana, Savasana...).
Asana is the main limb of Yoga that the Western world equates with the word "Yoga". Asana practice is actually a way to train our physical bodies into a more open and fit state to better house our spirits.
Another limb is dedicated to the controlled direction of life force through breath manipulation, and is known as “Pranayama”. The other 6 are philosophically based mental trainings on how to presently use this lifetime to attain an ultimate sense of deep connectedness with the Universe to the point of losing the body (this is a gross oversimplification).
In most 200 hour Yoga Alliance approved Teacher Training programs, there is a portion that must be dedicated to the teaching of all 8 limbs, so there is a good chance that when you walk into a Yoga class, your instructor has some understanding of the bigger picture; and if he or she has dedicated themselves to the teaching of it, chances are, they are on the path.
This means that you might gain some very wonderful insights about non-attachment and being in the present moment as those beads of sweat drop from your forehead to your mat while holding steady in Virabadrasana I (Warrior I) pose.
Your teacher is teaching because that is the mastery level of the student. In order to learn and solidify the lessons, one must share the lessons by teaching. The dialogue of the lessons are often received as ultimate truth, as they come from such a bigger-picture perspective. These are similar perspectives to ones you might gain from being on an expansive hike in nature. There is good reason why the stresses and road rage drop away while we are on our mats. Not only are we physically releasing it, but we are also being reminded of why we are really here.
Yoga is deeply connected with nature. It is from being in nature that many of the sages and gurus gathered their information and began sharing it formally as Yoga over some 5,000 years ago. The original teacher, was and still is the greatest teacher of them all, Mother Nature. This is why the Yoga path is so aligned with nature and why you suddenly become aware of your carbon footprint.
Yoga means "union" and it is not just a union of body/mind/spirit... is the union of all that is within you with all that exists around you in nature.
For more information about the 8-limbs of Yoga, check out this article from the Yoga Journal: http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158
Carol King is an RYT-200 Yoga Teacher and Owner of Sea of Light Yoga and Massage Therapy. She has been on "the path", carefully watching her footprints for over 10 years and enjoys taking students and friends on Yoga Hikes on Sunday mornings from 9-11am around the Greater Los Angeles area.