Why Yoga is Called a Practice
I grew up dancing, often to the beat of my own drummer, my mother likes to say. I started with classical ballet and fell in love with movement. Dancing was a language and a way of telling stories that I loved. The only part I loved as much as the dancing was the stretching. There was something magical about the strengthening and the increased flexibility that came with repeated and lingering movements. It is an art form of its own that can be seen in each dancer and every performance.
I started practicing yoga in 2011, mostly for the physical benefits. I wanted to stay in shape and yoga seemed like the key. I knew there were other benefits to yoga but that was not my focus initially. Yoga combines breathing techniques, exercise and meditation. Yoga is the Sanskrit word for union, and refers to a variety of unions including the union between our bodies and our minds. As my practice continues to grow and evolve, I understand that yoga is never going to be just one thing and it is a practice because the work is never ending.
It took about a year of growth in my physical practice before I had the capacity and foundation to start receiving the spiritual component. In 2012, I took a trip to Bali with my partner at the time. Trips often make or break a relationship and we were not meant to be. I discovered that there was a morning yoga class on the beach and that class became my refuge. Each morning I would wake, grab my mat, grab a snack and hit the beach with a small group. The class was early in the morning, not usually my time of day, but I got up each day excited to practice. A couple of days in, everything kind of fell into place, and as we saluted the sun as it rose in the sky, it all made sense to me. That was when my yoga practice rooted into something beyond a physical practice.
I continued my practice on the road and in different studios around DC. A couple years ago, I went with a friend to a new studio. The intake form asked your "level" and had it broken out by years with 5+ years listed as "advanced". It made me think about how long I had been practicing and while I did not feel "advanced", it forced me to acknowledge how far my practice has come. However it is still a practice that is continuing to grow everytime I get on my mat because there is always a little higher to climb, a little further to push, something new to learn. Learning is continuous which is why yoga is a practice; there’s no finish line and you can continue your practice until you leave this earth.
A friend volunteers at a juvenile detention center and I went with her a few times to assist. I was asked to consider what regular programming could be offered and it clicked. I recommended they add in yoga because teaching young people yoga could make make a massive difference in their lives that they can carry with them wherever they go. I was inspired even further after reading about the success of the Holistic Life Foundation. They are doing amazing work bringing yoga and meditation into schools in Baltimore. CNN wrote about how “kids here stretch, do yoga and practice deep breathing. More important, staff say, they build an ability to be mindful and calm.” These abilities are built from creating a practice and adding a little each time they get on their mat.
The science supports adopting the practice of yoga. “Yoga remains a natural and readily available approach to maintaining wellness and treating mental health issues, says Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, a neuroscientist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School at Brigham.” This is a practice that everyone can benefit from. “The practice enhances resilience and improves mind-body awareness, which can help people adjust their behaviors based on the feelings they're experiencing in their bodies, according to Khalsa.” So keep practicing your yoga, it is good for you, will benefit you and everyone around you.