As a yoga practitioner, I would like to share with you how this way of life has special meaning for me.
On the mat, I sit cross-legged before I begin my daily practice and set my intention or sankalpa. This may change from day to day – for doesn’t everything change from moment to moment? I visualize roots grounding me to the very center of the earth while the crown of my head reaches ever skyward. I lie back in the simple, but not easy, savasana or corpse pose. One may appear still, but the challenge is to quiet the mind and calm the breath for practice. Depending on my intention for the day and what I want to focus my physical practice on, I begin to give my attention to the various parts of my body and the various stretches.
My warm-ups, for example, may involve the muscles in my limbs, every vertebra of my spine, forward folds and backward folds and weight-bearing or sharing. I move from one asana or pose to the other with respect to my body and what it can do or be.
The role of my mind is paramount – for how can an agitated mind allow the body to be balanced and strong? What have I brought to my practice today and what do I want by the end of the time on my mat? Am I pushing myself toward an unrealistic goal for which I will pay later? How can I use my breath to strengthen me? Is my spirit willing to cooperate with both my mind and body? These are some of the thoughts that guide me as I move from pose to pose. In essence, how is love of myself and the world around me to be manifested in my yoga practice?
One of the poses that opens the heart center is the cobra pose. In order to be strong in that pose, one has to open the muscles around the ribs and chest where our heart is located, rest on strong hands, supported by our leg muscles and move one’s head back like a serpent about to strike. It’s excellent for our spine too. With an even breath and a focused mind, one will be steadfast in love for sure.
I end my practice back in savasana, a constructive resting pose, to allow every cell in my body to incorporate the benefits of the gift of this time I have allowed myself this day.
Yoga has been taught, practised and become a way of life for people all over the world for thousands of years. It comes with scientifically proven benefits. Among them are a decrease in anxiety, relief of stress, reduction in inflammation, improved heart health, a better quality of life, help to handle depression, reduction of chronic pain, improved sleep, flexibility and balance.
Yoga combines the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of being human. It is not just about the ultimate goal, but the effort, devotion, humility, perseverance and dedication of the daily journey. Perhaps it is a way of uniting with the divine within each one of us.
Bringing yoga to life beyond the mat means practising essential virtues like truth, kindness, purity, generosity, open-mindedness, contentment, peace, self-reflective awareness and surrender to God. Through its breathing exercises, study, concentration and meditation, we may come to recognize our true nature and so to express love toward our selves, the world around and even the whole of creation.
With love in our hearts, minds and spirits we can celebrate the true significance of Valentine’s Day every day of the year. Love, as the song goes, is “a many-splendored thing.”
This is yoga.