Figuring out my definition of YOGA

Sarah-3593I frequently come across students or acquaintances who ask me what type of yoga I teach.  I usually respond with the same answer each time (“I was trained in vinyasa yoga but focus my teaching on developing gentle at-home practices for people”).  This one sentence always gets extremely mixed reactions- some people get excited by it, some turn their noses up, immediately turned off.  After awhile, I realized that people’s reactions depend strongly on what their concept of yoga is.  To some, it’s purely a form of fitness done in a gym with the purpose of sweating, exercising, and weight loss.  To others, it’s all about connecting with a higher power in the universe (God or otherwise) through meditation, seated poses, and chanting.  And to a select few, yoga has become a competition with people even lobbying for it to become an Olympic sport!  (Yup, I was shocked about this too.  Read more about competitive yoga in this article “Could yoga soon be an Olympic sport?“)  My form of yoga probably wouldn’t please any of these people.

My dear friend, Ana Lu Farina’s recent article, “This is what India whispered to me in my sleep“, has had me thinking about this topic ever since I read it a few days ago.  It’s true that yoga in the US is just a huge grey area these days.  When the seed of yoga was planted in our country just decades ago, who knew it would grow in so many crazy, and often contradictory, directions?!  Ana Lu says- “Let’s honor and respect the science of Yog, and give it an opportunity to thrive in the West.”  I agree!  But as someone who has ample training and experience within the walls of the US, but no access to any Indian gurus, I’m a bit stuck in figuring out what yoga really is to me.  I’d love to travel to India and experience ‘real yoga’ but that’s not in my calendar anytime soon.  So how did I figure out what yoga means to me without the guidance of any real sages, gurus, or monks?

I’ve chosen to spend my early days in yoga experiencing different style of other people’s yoga and learned what I was drawn to.  For me, in yoga classes that are only focused on speaking in sanskrit, holding poses for what feels like forever, and chanting, I get lost.  What can I say?  I’m an American and didn’t grow up around this stuff.  I’ve learned through my various trainings how these things all relate to the science of yoga and why mantras, meditation, and poses are all equally important but it’s just not something that I like to have at the forefront in my classes.  Yes, I do have a great respect for yoga teachers who are able to (and enjoy) leading others in classes about the true science, history, and importance of real ancient yoga.

For me, what works and what feels good is to breath deeply, move through a few poses, clear my mind, and relax.  I enjoy a mix of calming and challenging poses.  I enjoy practicing with music on (yes, even some rockin’ tunes).  I enjoy stretching and strengthening my body while de-cluttering and focusing my mind.  This is how I experience a ‘mind, body, spirit connection.’  I accept that others may gag at this definition of yoga but I’m OK with that.  I’ve learned what works for me and this is what my definition of yoga is.

What does yoga mean to you?  What type of yoga speaks to your soul?  If you’re not sure yet, take a few classes with experienced teachers from different backgrounds.  Don’t worry about what you or your friends may think is the cool and trendy yoga style.  Just see what feels amazing to you, adapt it to your body and lifestyle, and practice, practice, practice.

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2 responses to “Figuring out my definition of YOGA”

  1. Kacy says:

    Hi Sarah, I am going to Bonnaroo this weekend and I understand there are yoga classes all day and night. I hope to try a few. I have been going to the gym and getting in shape but want to explore yoga as well. Your classes sound like ones that I would enjoy. I had my knee replaced about 6 months ago so I don’t have complete range of motion in my left knee. I think I will just have to adjust poses. Anyway, wish you were in Columbus!

    • Sarah Studebaker says:

      Hi Kacy, Sounds like an amazing trip! I didn’t know that they offer yoga, but that should be a great balance to all the other festivities there. Definitely adjust as you go and just do what you can. Some yoga’s definitely better than no yoga! Enjoy!

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