Yoga is becoming a very popular fitness activity for anyone who wants to stay physically and mentally healthy. The stigma (in some countries) around Yoga being mostly a feminine activity is also slowly fading away as more and more men practise it.
In fact, many of the Yoga “gurus” are men, and certain styles of Yoga are by no means feminine at all. It’s probably just the very common and familiar image of a slim lady wearing yoga pants and lugging a mat that made people think that Yoga is a lady’s activity.
It’s true that most practitioners are females, at least in Singapore, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of male yogis too.
Anyway, Yoga has become an important part of my daily life for the past few years, more so in the recent year as I started taking physical classes, and moving away from “casual” practice just by watching YouTube videos and following along.
In the recent year, I’ve learned so much about Yoga and fellow yogis that I look forward to every practice on the mat. It’s the whole experience during and after the session that keeps me, and millions of other yogis all around the world, keep coming back for more.
There are so many parts to Yoga that grow you as a person and practitioner that I won’t be able to cover in just words, but I’d like to just spend some moments to reflect on what I’ve learned as a regular yogi.
Connecting with oneself
While many might argue that sports and any other fitness activities at the gym or studio can allow anyone to “reconnect” with oneself, the sensations you feel during a Yoga practice is very different from that of any of the above.
There’s almost no other fitness activity that requires focus on the breath, gaze, and pose (or posture) at any given point, all at the same time. Sure, there’ll be times where you can’t achieve a pose or your body says it’s too tired to stay in a pose, but for the most part, your mind zooms in on the present moment.
Each session starts and ends with still and quiet moments where practitioners would naturally reconnect with the mind, body, and soul, even if the instructor doesn’t say a word. Call it a Yoga ritual if you will, because sometimes I feel that it really is, but a ritual that is unique and belongs to each individual.
In the most common styles of Yoga, we hold poses for a few breaths at a time, and the transition between each pose is usually connected with purposeful inhalations and exhalations. Basically, the sequences are all stringed together, and yogis just need to follow the instructor’s cue through the whole practice.
It challenges your mind to focus on the present, bearing in mind the breath, gaze, and each pose, truly owning the time dedicated to yourself. If you’re practising with friends or loved ones like I normally do, the effects are even more healing – you build on each other’s energy, while sharing with the other likeminded yogis.
You are your biggest competition
In any sport, there’s always this element of competitiveness, because you’re playing with or against someone or a team. For gym sessions, it’s inevitable that fellow gym-goers will measure themselves against each other depending on how heavy they can lift.
In Yoga, there are certain poses you can do and others can’t, and vice versa, giving it some sort of unspoken competition. But any serious and experienced yogi would know that everyone is at different stages of their practice, and there’s no judgment, only motivation and inspiration.
And if anyone ever steps into a Yoga studio and observe a class, everyone is in their own “world”, taking their own variations of a pose depending on what they can achieve on that day. If anything, the less experienced takes in the energy of their seniors to just push themselves a little bit more to improve.
But it’s never about competing with someone else in the room – you’re always just competing with yourself, the self at the start of the practice, and the self from previous sessions.
I’m not sure about you, but this pretty much applies to any other aspects of our lives too. Yes, compare ourselves against others to know what’s possible and know where we stand. Don’t take the successes of others as a way of putting ourselves down, though, that won’t get us anywhere.
We’re only accountable to ourselves and loved ones, not the societal standards or industry benchmarks that others might try to project onto us.
Our body is a lot stronger than we think
Like with any other fitness activity, Yoga allows you to push yourself to boundaries that you never thought possible. More so, though, the boundaries that you push in Yoga is less about lifting more weight or beating your past running record – it’s that your body is capable of many things you’re unaware of.
For example, something very simple such as touching my toes with my legs straight (forward fold, standing or seated) – I never achieved that for more than 25 years of my life, but Yoga taught me that I could do it as long as I dedicated time to stretching out my hamstrings and calves.
For most fitness activities, it’s mostly just about strength and endurance; for Yoga, it’s everything that you can think of – flexibility, mobility, stability, and everything else present in other fitness activities too.
Many unachievable and seemingly impossible poses will eventually be just second nature when you finally get the hang of it, and these discoveries will just keep building your confidence to keep pushing to deepen your practice.
And sometimes, just trusting our bodies and attempting at a pose until you get it is the key to improvement, just like how everything works in life too.
I’m still very early in my Yoga journey, and I’ll learn so much more from Yoga in my lifetime, hopefully also spreading the love and knowledge with other likeminded yogis.
Regardless whether it’s a casual hobby or serious practice and journey to getting certified as an instructor, I think everyone has a valuable thing or two to learn from Yoga and in the process, learn more about themselves too.