Yoga: A Way of Empowering Yourself

Posted by Heiko Pfeiffer • Wednesday, January 19. 2011 • Category: Arts and Beyond
When I started yoga, I saw it as something physical, an elaborate set of postures, bends, and stretches. Most of them I found difficult if not impossible to attain. Yoga clearly seemed to be a lot about fitness, something that was also in vogue. The pictures of extremely fit, flexible women and men, effortlessly smiling while performing some complicated posture, had an intimidating effect on me. I had always been playing sports and generally liked to move around a lot, but that didn't include doing more delicate things with my own body. Yoga, I assumed, was not for people like me.

By lululemon athletica
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/4442150454/)

I also had this vague notion that yoga is about “the union of body and mind” but since the physical part of it seemed to be so far off, I put little thought into the wider benefits of yoga.

I met my first yoga teacher during my first visit to India. After his three-day introduction that seemed to involve a lot of talk about our physical and mental nature with a few exercises and breathing techniques thrown in, I was curious enough to join my first yoga class at my German university. One year of classes made me look for more. When time allowed for it again, I set off for my second trip to India and spent four weeks in an Ashram in the South, at the end of which I had decided that I wanted to train to become a yoga teacher. Since my old employer had just told me that they had no money to keep me after the summer holidays, I packed my luggage helter-skelter again and joined the yoga teachers training I had been dreaming about. This time, the destination was Tyrol, Austria.

What is it about yoga that makes me be so enthusiastic about it?

First of all, as I picked up a regular practice of yoga asanas, I saw my body do things I had never deemed possible before. Throughout my youth, being healthy and active all the same, there seemed to be set boundaries my body could not overcome: hunchback-related issues, the impossibility to bend my hips forward in a sitting position (reaching with my hands towards my toes) without significant signals of pain and stress reaching my brain. The never ending back and neck issues after some time spent sitting on a desk doing homework, or using the computer; knee and leg issues caused or reinforced by ten years of playing soccer.

By Barry Silver
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/gbsk/3922825380/)

Spending time in the insulated, peaceful atmosphere of the Ashram, with its vigorous daily schedule (wake up at 5.30 am every day, meditation and asana classes twice a day, karma yoga or daily cleaning tasks, weeding, or kitchen aid, daily lectures, leaving little time free) and food regime (vegetarian, twice daily), I learned a lot about my own body as well as my emotional nature. For example, how much emotions manifest in our body. Stress causes our body, especially, but not only, the neck, to become stiffer, and our breathing to become shallower. I remember many times in my life feeling stiff and as though some heavy weights had been placed on my chest (some people get a head ache, others procrastinate, and so forth).

My yoga training has taught me proper breathing and relaxation techniques, which facilitate meditation. The result has been quite startling. Yoga sees a strong relationship between breathing and the mind. So while learning how to breathe properly, I could actually feel how a bad mood would turn into a better mood, how inner tensions would loosen up. When practicing meditation, I learned a lot about what goes on in my mind. Usually, it is quite some hullabaloo that is going on inside, even when we feel pretty quiet on the outside.

By Espen Klem
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/eklem/4401705337/)

Seeing my body overcome limit after limit, issue over issue, has been one certainly very impressive experience. It is not like some sudden miracle happened to me. The changes came little by little and certainly not without frustrations. The regularity, the focused atmosphere did the trick. And this has perhaps left the biggest impression on me. More importantly than any physical improvements has been the broader message this has sent to me. With endurance and patience, little things can happen, and these little things can make an important difference in the end. I realized how rigid my notions about my own physical abilities were.

Yoga can be a lot of fun. It’s physical, which is nice, but it also goes on to teach us more about our emotional nature and ways to deal with it better. If you’re up for it, you can also learn a great deal about the yogic science of the mind, all wrapped up neatly in traditional Indian foil of gods, deities, mantras, and pujas.
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