If you were to ask someone “what is yoga?” I would expect to hear a wide variety of answers. The fact is that people interpret yoga in many different ways. Someone who has never practiced yoga before would probably describe it as a form of “fancy stretching.” Even asking any regular practitioner you would come up with a variety of definitions. Some say it is an exercise, while others would argue it is a path to spiritual enlightenment. Neither is right or wrong. Yoga connects with each one of us differently and that connection can change over time.
When I took my first yoga class in 2007, I came into the practice not knowing really what to expect. In my first few classes I never really thought about what yoga really was. I knew it made me feel good, i knew I enjoyed it, and I knew I wanted to continue doing it. Looking back I would say yoga was more of an exercise. It helped make my body stronger and more flexible. I practiced to help condition my body; to improve my respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and cardiovascular system. It was very much a physical practice at this time.
A year into my practice when I got introduced to yoga competitions, there was a shift in my definition of yoga. In short, I competed and was titled as the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Champion for 2008. During this time, yoga turned into more of a sport. I practiced and “trained” to achieve the perfect posture. It was very superficial and ego-based practiced at the time. Not saying that the yoga competition promotes this definition of yoga, it was more what I turned the competition into for me. I turned yoga into something I would not consider healthy or sustainable. Over the years I continued to compete and when the outcome did not go as I wanted I set myself up for disappointment and defeat. Eventually I ended up giving up my regular practice for a good part of a year.
It was difficult to get back into my practice again after associating it with expectations that were ultimately unrealistic. I had to make new associations with what yoga meant to me. I came back into it with the goal of self-improvement. I realized that throughout the years of my practice it was not just my physical body changing but it had been strengthening me mentally as well. I was very shy, unconfident, and unsure of who I really was when I was growing up. I never really had my own direction; I followed a path that I thought was expected of me. Through the practice, I felt that I had gained more confidence in myself. I moved past my fears of public speaking and I had enough strength to pursue my own dreams. Despite the doubts and fears of taking on yoga as a “career,” I believed in it enough to go after it after everyone telling me I would not be able to do it.
Today, yoga for me is about connecting with myself. Getting to know my true self without the pressures of society. I am on my mat, by myself, facing anything that might come up. There are times when things get challenging and I want to give up, times where my mind wonders out of the classroom, times where I hold onto expectations, and times where I just don’t believe in myself. It is during these times, when our backs are against the wall, that our true self begins to show. We realize our strength and weakness and learn to accept them.
Yoga has the gift of empowering us. It teaches us how to be strong and to trust ourselves. To look inward for our happiness and not to rely on someone or something. The greatest gift yoga has given me is to trust that everything is ok, that I am exactly where I am meant to be, that I have the strength to move forward, that I am worthy of love, and that I am whole and complete.