On a recent vacation, as I was reading a book called Light on Life by B.K.S Iyengar, it dawned on me that I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started my Ashtanga yoga practice a few years ago. I thought it would be a great way to get in shape and perhaps reduce some stress. My yoga practice has since given me so much more than just physical benefits—it has literally changed my life. However, I still have trouble explaining how and why to non-yogis. So this is where this wonderful book stepped in to help.
Iyengar often says “the body is the bow, the asana is the arrow, and the soul is the target.” He explains in Light on Life what he means by this; “I use the body to discipline the mind and to reach the soul. Asanas (poses), when done with the right intention, will help to transform an individual by taking the person away from an awareness of just the body toward the consciousness of the soul.”
To a new yoga student or potential future yoga student this explanation probably still isn’t of much help in explaining the non-physical benefits of yoga, so let me provide an interpretation based on my experience. At the beginning, yoga poses do cause some pain as we stretch the body in ways it is not accustomed to. But very soon, as the body opens up a little bit, the mind begins to quiet down and we start to feel a little bit more content and a little happier—both on our mats and in our daily lives.
Over time, as we start to gain strength, flexibility and balance, we start to feel a sense of lightness and freedom. In our daily lives, our attachments start to loosen up and our priorities start to shift. Soon, as our focus increases, we start to become more aware of the present moment, worry less about the past and the future. We start to really focus on what’s happening in our lives, here and now and start to gain more gratitude for what we have—no matter how much or how little that is. And that feeling of contentment and happiness continues to grow.
The more I practice, the more self awareness I gain. I feel like I am no longer outside looking in, I am aware of what I am doing with every cell of my body. I perform each asana (pose), each action more from the heart and less from the head. Again, this starts to happen both on and off my mat.
Iyengar captures this feeling so well when he says, “We are surrendering our egos … It must not be just your mind or even your body that is doing the asana (pose). You must be in it. You must do the asana (pose) with your soul.” And this is how what happens in a yoga class on your mat, continues to gradually creep off of your mat and into your daily life.
Think of the physical practice of yoga as a fantastic jumping off point to start the inward journey to finding your best, most beautiful self. I have so much more to learn, but so far, I think the effort invested in my yoga practice has been very worthwhile. I hope this explanation will help to encourage a few more non-yogis out there to see how a yoga practice can transform their lives from the outside in.
I started with a style called Ashtanga yoga with an amazing teacher at Pacific Ashtanga in Dana Point, CA but there are many great teachers and different types of yoga practices out there for you to try.
If you are a yogi and you like this explanation, please pass it on to some of your non-yogi friends as encouragement to give yoga a try and see if they experience both the physical and the non-physical transforming benefits of this practice.