June 21st was declared International Day of Yoga by the United Nations last year after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the UN to acknowledge the valuable gift of India’s ancient tradition…the gift of yoga. Thousands of people around the world rolled out their yoga mats in parks, streets, shopping malls, yoga studios and on beaches as yoga enthusiasts sought to share this wonderful gift.
In my small community we were able to share a beautiful winter’s morning bathed in sunlight at the local park. It was such a joy to see so many people coming together to not only practice their yoga but to acknowledge the benefits that yoga has brought to their life. Later that day I sat down to reflect on just what those benefits that I had experienced were…..
Of course the obvious is an increase in my flexibility and strength which is probably the primary reason why many people join a yoga class. Then I thought about the more subtle changes in my life. The fact that I was often “noticing my breath” , observing how my breathing changed with the different situations I found myself in. By practicing the pranayama in class I had become attuned to the relationship between breath, activity and most importantly emotions. I had learned ways to control my breath and use this to alter what was happening in my body and mind.
I have also found it easier to relax. The techniques I have learned mean that it is quite easy to develop stillness in my body by either sitting or lying down. It is as if my body now has a cellular memory for being relaxed as soon as I get into a comfortable sitting (padmasana) or lying pose ( shavasana). My body wants to become still and as my body stills, my mind seems to follow suit. Of course this does not mean that I never experience tension in the body and mind but it is as if I have found an “escape button” when things seem overwhelming.
By practicing yoga I have become more attuned to myself and subsequently more attuned to others and the world around me. I see flocks of birds wheeling in the sky in perfect formation sparkling like bits of tinsel; I see small shoots bursting forth defiantly from frozen ground, lambs playing “tiggy” as they dash around the paddock, with all four legs leaping off the ground. I see sadness or joy in the face of strangers. I see hope and triumph in the faces of children as they learn to master new skills. I hear the rain, the wind, the silence ….the songs of nature. I smell the freshness of the country air, the sweet scent of lemon gums, the rich soil beneath my feet. My world has become so much more three-dimensional.
Yoga has also taught me about discipline. The need to set aside time for myself for physical movement not associated with work, for relaxation, for fun, for reflection. I am continually developing the ability to simply “be” not “do” and it is wonderfully liberating.
Yoga has given me the opportunity to share all of these benefits with others by teaching. There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see the joy of discovery on his/her student’s faces..that “ah ha I get it” moment and in my many years of teaching, especially in my yoga teaching, this has been nothing short of pure joy.
When you first set foot tentatively on a yoga mat, hoping this might ease a bit of stiffness in the body, you could not imagine how profoundly it will change your life. So thank you President Modi and members of the UN, thank you to all those students who came to join me in the park and thank you to the ancient yogis for sharing this beautiful gift.