It's a question I often ask myself, because sometimes I get lost and need to find my way back. I get caught up in the very American view of yoga that promotes yoga practice as a way to lose weight and work on one's body shape and size. I feel pressured to teach a fast, flowing, aerobically stimulating class even when I know that the students asking for such a class are not ready for it physically. I let myself fall into the trap that I have fallen into since I was a youngster: trying to be what people want me to be instead of what I am.
In the last week, during my lovely yoga retreat in Puglia, Italy, I found myself falling into the traps that I just described, and I had to pause and ask myself again, "Why do I teach yoga?" Below are my answers.
- I teach yoga because yoga is about change. It is a practice that unites the body and the mind by way of the breath, and it allows us the opportunity to accept where/who we are and make the choice to move forward into someplace/someone new.
- I teach yoga because I believe so strongly in the power of the mind that I can't help getting excited when I can introduce someone to that massive power they hold within themselves. Changing the mind does more for our health than changing the body alone does, in my opinion--and changing the mind leads to changes in the body that last.
- I teach yoga because in each class, I get the opportunity to reserve a little slice of space and time for my students and myself to shut out all outside influences, to turn inward, and to truly listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us. For most people, my yoga class offers them the first time all day or all week that they actually have been aware of their own breath--;the one thing keeping them alive, and the primary thing for which we should all be grateful.
- I teach yoga because it allows us all to achieve an awareness of our mind, our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies' incredible ability to store these thoughts and emotions and clearly display them even when our minds think they're fooling everyone.
My yoga is a meditation: a turning inward, a noticing, a practice of mindfulness, an experience of being fully present and focusing on one thing (as much as possible). The object of the focus may change from day to day, from class to class, but the method for achieving that focus is consistent: breathe, notice, imagine, repeat.
My yoga is not about getting your body to shrink or your biceps to bulge or your belly to flatten. For that, ride your bike, lift weights at the gym, or do my core and back strengthening exercises. Instead, my yoga exercises the one part of us that affects our physical well-being more than any physical practice you can participate in: the mind.
If you're interested in my yoga, let me know. I'd love to share it with you.