It could be said; Yoga is really no different than anything else. To give you an idea of how this statement works, think, for a few moments about your idea of Yoga. For most of us, there is something specific that comes to mind — and what that is, is how you think about yoga, based on what you know now. To demonstrate the “yoga is no different” part, think for a moment about food.
If you were to pause long enough for your mind to formulate a series of complete thoughts – there is a lot that can happen. You might feel certain emotions that go along with your attitudes beliefs and ideas about food – or you could mentally evaluate what dishes are your favorites, or anything else. Nobody would know better than you, where your mind went. Point being, a word is enough to trigger a way of thinking. Many words can be interpreted in vastly differing ways, despite their inherent possibility of sharing a singular meaning to more than one person.
That being said, I remember my first experience with Yoga, just like it was yesterday. Other than thinking that Yoga was something women did to avoid “real” workouts (like lifting heavy weights in a gym) I didn’t have all that much of an idea or understanding of what Yoga was. Nor did I really care. When a friend invited me to attend a hot yoga class in Fort Lauderdale, I was pretty open to the idea (as it was something that might act as a nice warm up before going to the gym).
Upon arrival to the studio the teacher ask if I had done yoga before, to which I let her know I had not. I was then given the instructions to do what I could, drink plenty of water, and rest if I needed rest. I did not own a mat so I had to rent one. Additionally, I noted there were a lot of people who seemed to be dressed for an afternoon at the beach, not a workout. I soon discovered why…
To get to the point, that class was one of the most harrowing, nauseating and miserable experiences I had ever had with fitness. I felt completely uncoordinated, weak, clumsy and frustrated. An inflated (weight-lifters) ego was the only think that got me through the class, as there wasn’t a minute that went by that I didn’t want to leave. The teacher (to me) was pontificating about spirituality and it seemed that everyone, except me, was an expert at yoga. Even the judgmental appearing (again, to me, at the time) short, thin bald guy sporting nothing more than a pair of aged speedos.
As if the class weren’t punishment enough, once it was FINALLY over (after 90 minutes) the teacher boldly announced that was time for something called savasana, which pretty much meant laying flat on your back and closing your eyes in a 100 plus degree room, while being overheated, dehydrated and drenched in sweat. It was at the time I rolled my mat up and made the declaration that I would NEVER be taking another yoga class (or having anything to do with yoga for that matter) for the REST OF MY LIFE.
Next summer, July of 2003 I was in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, studying Hathaway Alignment Science (HAS), with my current Yoga Mentor and Teacher, Harmon Hathaway at the American Yoga Foundation. My never lasted a whole 13 months. I was not, however, there to learn what I now often refer to as fitness yoga. At the time, my primary interest was to learn a form of breathwork that could accompany a recent certification (what I now consider not even worth the paper it was printed on) in the field of Hypnotherapy.
What Harmon showed me was much more that I could have bargained for. HAS is a system of Aligning, Releasing and Unlocking the body in many ways – and it has very little to do with “Fitness Yoga” – although it’s principals wonderfully incorporate into anything movement oriented, including Yoga. I have since developed a completely unique style of “Fitness” Yoga, which is entirely based upon the principals of Alignment as I discovered in HAS.
It was not, however, my intention to write an article about the physical merits of Yoga. Going back to the beginning (of the article) I had eluded that one word can be taken many ways – and I used Yoga as an example. The reason I am sharing these thoughts is that I often get ask questions about yoga that lead me to believe that the ideas quite a few of you hold onto about Yoga automatically dis-qualify you from even having the ability to participate because of a series of limitations that some “practitioners” may not have.
So, I figured one way to sow a few seeds of understanding was examine the origin of the words Hatha (which is often depicted as a style of yoga) and Yoga. Yoga is often thought if as Sanskrit - which is often thought of as having to do with India. The word yoga, in Sanskrit, translates to Yoke, which has the English meaning of Union. Equally important is the word “Hatha” – which (in Sanskrit) translates to the English meaning “Breath”. So, in essence, Hatha Yoga translates into “Breath Union” or A Union with Breath.
This is both important and relevant (I think) because it doesn’t alienate anyone who would like to become more in tune with body-mind-soul connection with the practice of Yoga. Personally I have showed many people who do not believe they are in even moderate shape, how to enjoy a practice that not only reduces stress and helps foster greater intuition – but also improves physical well being. It’s called Yoga, and it all starts with a (conscious) connection with breath in changing and evolving environments. It can be used for as many paths (and more) as a mind can conceive. Just because I use it in my personal life as a way of strength, flexibility and cardio training, doesn’t mean you have to too. It can bend to fit your needs too.