Did you know that "yoga" does not mean contortionist postures? It's easy to conflate "yoga" and " yoga asana" (physical postures). But actually "yoga" means "to unite." There are many ways of interpreting this concept. For me, in a state of yoga I unite my mind, my body, and my inner wisdom. This wisest part of each of us is known as "atman" in yoga texts, and basically means your highest self. You know the voice that stays above the fray? The voice that urges you do take care of yourself and those around you? The part of you that knows best? That's the one. That's what we're up to during yoga practice: trying to quiet down the chitter chatter of the fluctuations of the mind enough to hear that wisdom. That's why it doesn't necessarily matter what exactly you're doing during yoga practice... it more matters how you are doing it.
All yoga practices (including yoga asana) aim to foster a greater connection with this part of you. And regular practice is essential. Yoga asana is very important, in that it helps keep your body healthy, flexible, and strong, introduces your mind to your body (in case you forgot that you're more than a brain), and encourages you to confront your "mindstuff" on the mat. However, there are many daily practices that can bring you into this state, even between classes. I find that the simplest practices are the easiest to actually do each day. Here are three of my favorites. Comment with yours.
1. Look up. When you're walking outside, take a moment to look up at the sky. Even the simple act of turning off your iPhone and connecting with the ever-shifting nature of our sky can broaden your perspective.
2. Meditate. Anywhere. Think you have to be on a cushion in lotus pose to practice meditation? Think again. Some of the simplest of daily tasks can become meditation practices with a big dose of mindfulness. All you need is a simple task and one of your senses. How about focusing on the sensation the cool water on your hands as you wash your veggies for dinner? Or the smell of your soap or the feeling of the water during your daily shower? What about sending out kindness to those you encounter on your commute, wishing them happiness and freedom? How about thinking of five things you're grateful for as you wait for your tea to steep? Can you direct all of your attention to the sound of the rain outside? Or the sensation of the cold? Or the feeling of your feet as you walk down the sidewalk? Notice the mind's tendency to wander and make judgments, but with compassion. Gently guide your mind back to the focal point. Do this for a month. I bet it changes you.
3. Surround yourself with beauty. This doesn't mean your apartment needs to look like the Crate&Barrel catalog. It really doesn't. But finding small ways to bring beautiful things into your life can lift your spirits. Buy a plant. Make a photo collage. Light a candle. Watch the grace with which your cat moves. Get the pretty Kleenex box. Keep items around you that you feel are personally meaningful. Hang inspirational quotes or pictures around your home. Treat your home like a sacred space. Learn to see and cultivate beauty in the everyday. As Rumi says, "Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you truly love. It will not lead you astray."