Class after class I did what I was told. I sat on my mat and obeyed as my teacher demanded that I set an intention for the class before she would let the class begin. I thought it was important. I bought in. I even coached it myself a few times after I started teaching. I was wrong. Goal-setting before class taught me that I could not come as I am or be as I am. I was supposed to want something else. This was me serving yoga rather than yoga serving me. It pre-determined my dissatisfaction before the practice even began.
When we come to the mat it is far better to be open. It is better to be willing to experience anything that might happen. It is better to let the yoga work the way it needs to work that day rather than submit to a mandate. If we make a demand of ourselves or our bodies before we practice, if we lay down a set of expectations, we are performing yoga and not practicing yoga. Yoga has no end game. There is no win or lose. It shouldn’t require a pre-game pep talk, nor should it invite you to pass or fail your practice based on whether or not your intention was satisfied.
Just show up. Be open. Let it happen.
The better we get at doing something, the more efficiently we do it. Practice the same sequence of poses over and over and we naturally speed up. It’s nearly unavoidable. As we get stronger and develop more dexterity it takes us less time to move through familiar transitions. With nimble feet we float through things at which we used to plod. A supple spine bends and twists with greater ease. Speed will naturally creep in. Slow Yoga includes of practice of reminding ourselves that slow means slow.
Just because we can do it faster doesn’t mean we should. It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, but then we are no longer facilitating the benefits of Slow Yoga. Committing to Slow Yoga is a commitment that often must be continuously renewed. This doesn’t mean faster yoga has no place on your mat but don’t rob one practice to satisfy another. If we are freaking out that we aren’t getting the cardio we need, squeezing it into our yoga practice is only going to lead to a future-freaking out that we aren’t getting the yoga we need.
If you mean to practice yoga then practice yoga. If you want to lift weights then hit the rack at the gym. Trying to combine weight training with yoga is cheating your yoga practice. I like muscle tone and strong abs as much as the next girl but don’t bring weights to the mat. Don’t mix in high-intensity intervals, box jumps, or aerobic drills. No CrossFit. No Barre work. No Pilates. No tribal dance. If you want those classes then take those classes. Those are all noble pursuits but they will all compromise our yoga practice if we can’t keep them off the mat. It’s like trying to do our taxes while driving or eating breakfast while bathing.
If your favorite studio offers a hybrid-ized class, take it for fun but don’t be fooled. These hybrids are not innovations in yoga. They are fitness fads. They are brilliant ways for studio owners to cash in on new fitness trends. They help instructors attract new students. They aren’t necessarily bad but they cannot replace your yoga practice simply because there is a mat and a Downward Dog involved. Have your bootylicious fun but don’t let anyone convince you that yoga with weights is yoga. Just as wellness is more than fitness, yoga is more than sweat.
Maybe you can take yoga off the mat and into other sports. Awesome. Maybe you can take yoga to your running clinic. Yes ma’am. Maybe you can take yoga to your stand-up paddle board. Cowabunga. Maybe you can take yoga into your bootcamp class. Get some. Maybe that’s a fantastic way to integrate yoga into your other interests. Good for you, but it doesn’t work in reverse. Let the rest wait. You can build amazing strength by being still and being present. BKS Iyengar used to say that the pose begins the moment you want to leave it. It’s nearly impossible not to build stamina with a consistent practice of Slow Yoga. Build focus and discipline by keeping other fitness pursuits separate from time dedicated to yoga.
Go ahead and love your hot yoga. I get why yogis are so gaga over hot yoga but keep in mind if hot yoga produces sweat, Slow Yoga produces power. Slow Yoga also produces sweat but we have to work much harder for that that sweat. Sweat from an overheated space can be produced with a comparatively smaller amount of effort than sweat from exertion in a temperate space. If the room is not overheated we have to work harder to produce the same amount of sweat. This translates into a more powerful practice by comparison.
But. This is the Big But.
I can’t say any of that without also saying that the point of practicing yoga is not to get a good workout. A good workout might be one of the fringe benefits of practicing yoga but a good workout falls far short of yoga’s intended function, which is wellness. Wellness does not refer only to the body. Yoga includes ayurveda, meditation, and yogic living because body and mind suffer together and get well together, not independently.
According to the ancient yogis, physical wellness and spiritual wellness cannot be separated. One affects the other because they are integral to each other. They are linked by design. Neglect one and both suffer or at least, fail to function at full capacity. Nurture one and the other awakens, which is why the appetites or needs of the spirit are stoked when physical wellness is tended. A great workout lifts our spirits because when our physical wellness gets a boost, our spiritual wellness can’t help but be boosted as well. Fitness for its own sake is a component of wellness and yoga is certainly one of the ways to maintain fitness, but remember the Big But.