When you think of yoga, what picture comes to mind...legging-clad women in classes or yoga retreats flowing through challenging poses or Indian gurus twisted like contortionists? Over the last 10 -15 years, yoga has emerged from being a pastime for those interested in a holistic lifestyle, to a mainstream form of exercise; good for flexibility and stress relief and in some types of yoga such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga, a good old workout.
But what happened to the true meaning of yoga? Our goal-driven society has stripped out the spiritual and holistic to focus on the physical. Roll on International Yoga Day to set us straight again!
The day has been set up by the UN to answer the calls of India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to remind the world about yoga's true meaning. "It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well being," he said.
So it is a philosophy and a lifestyle rather than a hours class at the gym a couple of hours a week? What does that mean for me exactly and how should I live the lifestyle, I hear you ask? As someone who has practised yoga on the physical level over the last 20 years, I have been on my own personal journey, realising that it is so much more than a way to improve flexibility and spine health. My research and personal evolution has brought me to my own rules and interpretation of a yogic lifestyle:
1. Be honest. Most importantly be honest with yourself. Find your truth, what you believe in and what feels right to you. Resist the temptation to convince yourself of something you don't really believe in because others do so. Live your truth and have integrity.
2. Love yourself. Not in a vain, egotistical way but enough to really care about your body and mind. Eat a clean and healthy diet, exercise your body and keep your mind healthy through a regular meditation practice and constant learning. Invest in yourself. It is not a luxury but a necessity.
3. Respect all living things. Be aware of how your actions and words affect other human beings, animals and nature. Be compassionate and don't judge those who have different beliefs or chose different paths to your own.
4. Be grateful & giving. Gratitude brings happiness as does helping others. On a daily basis remind yourself about what is good in your life and do something for someone else. Buy someone a cup of tea, smile at a stranger, put your arm around a colleague who is having a difficult day. We forget to do these small things that can help another human being and bring us happiness too.
5. Have awareness or "mindful". Be aware of your thoughts and how they affect you. Be aware of what you consume and how it affects you - do certain foods make you feel better than others? So often we go through our day to day on automatic pilot, not being aware of what triggers certain behaviour, emotional states or how we feel. A daily meditation practice of being aware of your breath whilst observing your thoughts can help you get there.
So how about using the 21st June, International Yoga Day, as a day to set up your intention to introduce some yoga lifestyle practices in addition to your yoga classes? I am still on my ongoing yoga journey, trying to integrate more of them on a daily basis. No doubt the journey will continue for me throughout my lifetime.