Yoga: The Art of Living Well

Yoga is not only a physical practice, but it is also a spiritual practice. Through my yoga practice, I am better able to stay present, internally balanced, and enjoy good health and a lean body through the principles of breath, alignment, and movements.

I am now in the decade of my 70s, and I am still the only one who can make a difference in myself and my life. I look inwardly for guidance. It has been my preference and joy to stay connected to my mind and body through yoga.

I like to think that yoga is aesthetic; it is a creative dance that blends movement and expression. When I’m practicing yoga, I feel like the disco queen, the sexy Latina dancer, the prima ballerina, and everything beautiful all inside me. No one is watching me, and no one is judging me. My mat is my universe. I am always amazed by what I learn daily about moving into a position without needing to get anywhere. From the flowing movements come joy and renewal. I’m excited and enthusiastic to be alive and mindful of my being. New ideas often enter my mind as I breathe and flow. I let them go; they will return in time.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yui, meaning “bring together” or “unite.” The practice integrates all aspects of the individual–body, mind, and spirit–to bring about balance and harmony in a sentient being. There are three parts to yoga practice: breathing, physical movement (or asana), and meditation.

Breathing is the linchpin of the practice, for it yokes the body and mind together. Breath is sacred, and breathing is the primary mechanism that inspires us to be present. The yogic breath pattern involves deep belly breathing that engages every cell in the body.

I like to refer to a yoga practice’s moving or physical component as a “moving meditation” because it connects a clear mind with breath and physical movement. The movement component helps me let go of my thoughts and distance myself from the constant need to feed my ego.

Meditation creates more awareness in my life. The simple definition of “meditation” is to quiet the mind. Yet, this definition doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stop thinking. Meditation suggests that we let our thoughts go and not get stuck on one track or loop. When we relax the mind, we relax our body as well.

I use many creative techniques in mediation apart from watching my thoughts go by like clouds or watching my breathing. I challenge my thoughts and ask myself if I have any suggestions for improving my meditation. I pay close attention to my posture, a straight spine. I hold and sustain contradictory thoughts, pay attention to ambient sounds in the room, or imagine a beautiful scene on the beach. Or I might ask myself, what do I want in life?

Brain mapping studies reveal that mediation increases happiness and reduces stress, which gives us a better quality of life. Long–term meditation is associated with increased gray matter, increased density of the brain stem, the thickness of the spinal cord, blood flow, and improvement in cognitive learning.

I engage in my yoga practice by selecting small intentions rather than goals, as in “I have to touch the floor; otherwise, I haven’t executed the posture properly.” The purpose of moving into a yoga pose with patience, grace, and alignment allows me to stay in the present without grasping or forcing myself into position. I apply this approach to my life, as well. Instead of the goal- oriented Western concept of pushing toward achievement, this enables me to live my life with more ease and a sense of purpose and joy. That is the essence of yoga; enjoying the journey and not heading directly for the destination.
With yoga, I can distance myself from the daily grind of life. I cannot change the dynamics of my world, but I can effect change in myself. I follow the yogic way of life and its principles of an open heart and mind and what follows is my bliss.

On the first day of my yoga teacher training class, my teacher asked the class why they had signed up for training. I said, “Because I want to live forever.” I was, of course, joking, but I did know that my yoga practice would allow me to live with greater joy.

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