If you’ve wanted to try yoga but feel intimidated or challenged, you should know a few things. You don’t have to go to a yoga studio, wear workout clothes, chant Om, or even be able to touch your toes to do yoga. Those graceful poses you see represent only a fraction of what this ancient healing system has to offer. Even if you’ve never sat on a mat or twisted your body like a pretzel, it’s likely you’ve already felt the essence of yoga. In a moment of clarity, when you see and feel life as it is—that’s a yoga experience. At its core, yoga is a genuine act of acknowledgment, tuning in; it’s a heightened sense of presence, which anyone can do—without a mat.
If you already practice asana (yoga positions), consider this: your favorite yoga routine may sculpt your abs and stretch your hips, but while it may make you fit, there is so more you can do to connect with the essence and the rewards of yoga. Like any regular exercise program, asana can improve your health, well-being, and appearance. But, unless you’re sculpting and stretching your mind as much as your body, it’s possible that you’re missing out on the deepest and most magical benefits of yoga, which draws upon thousands of years of wisdom and a vast science of enlightenment.
Whether you are a yoga newbie or asana disciple, you don’t have to explore Hindu scriptures, live on a mountain top, or sit for hours in meditation, unless of course you want to. Thanks to the earliest yogis who paved the way to these timeless insights, we now know the deepest benefits of yoga are as accessible as your next breath.
In this light, you can “do yoga” at any time, in any position, at any place. The only tool you need is you. Simply take a moment to get quiet, notice your body, and listen to your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. It’s a form of meditation, a deliberate and conscious choice to tune in and listen to your body for information and direction. It may reveal simple messages, like “soften your jaw; it’s really tense” or “wow, it feels good just to exhale and sigh.” You don’t have to analyze your life or figure everything out; just simply enter into what’s already there. It’s a contemplative journey within. Over time, yoga allows you to sit with yourself longer in any position, find your center, and create space for stillness, breath, and eventually, the courage to ask for what you need.
Each time you stop the race and take a couple of deep breaths, you connect with what it means to be fully alive and present. As a result, you become more intimate with yourself, your needs, desires, and dreams, and increase your capacity for insights, intuition, and inspiration.
With time and practice, yoga can become a mindset, rewarding its practitioners with priceless gifts like clarity, courage and peace. Who doesn’t want some of that?
Give yourself the gift of tapping into the wisdom from a powerful legacy of yogis, most of whom did their best yoga without our modern-day poses. Whether you’re 20 or 90, consider yoga, with or without a mat.
- Label your breathing. Pause and tune into your breath. Start by labeling your breathing. When you inhale, say in your mind “inhaling.” When you exhale, think the word “exhaling.” This basic meditation technique will synchronize your mind and body, and connect you with the fundamental spirit of being alive. Practice labeling your breath for 3 to 8 breaths at a time.
- Scan your body. Center your awareness on one part of your body at a time, in a thoughtful sequence. Start at your feet, then move your attention to your legs, hips, belly, ribs, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers, neck, and head. Name the body part silently in your mind as you meditate on each place within you. Then zoom out and witness the whole contour of your body. From a greater “altitude,” see how all the parts of you come together beautifully to function as one unified expression. Imagine breathing into all of these parts as well as your whole being. The more you practice this simple body scan (which, with practice, can take less than a minute), the greater access you’ll have to body awareness and a feeling of wholeness.
- Let go of tension. Keep an inner eye on small, seemingly unconscious shifts in weight and space distribution in your body, especially during a challenging mood or situation. For example, look for tendencies to place more weight on one foot versus the other, and for side body slumping, hip hiking, buttocks clenching, shoulders and chest tightening, throat burning, and head aching. By looking for areas of excess tension and sensation in your body, you’ll discover where you hold heaviness. Often indicating the weight of unexpressed emotion, these heavy places actually represent the parts of you that have braced against reality. Direct your breath to these heavy places, release their bind, and bring them back into the light of awareness.