I’m sure you’ve seen the phrase before: “yoga lifestyle.” Chances are you’ve seen it in conjunction with beautiful photos of beautiful people in beautiful clothes - photos meant to promote or advertise apparel or other products closely or loosely related to the practice of yoga. I’m about to tell you something that the yoga apparel companies don’t want you to know. The yoga lifestyle has nothing to do with the clothes you wear. It has nothing to do with what yoga poses you are able to do. And it is not particular to any body type, gender, or skin color.
I hope so. Because I’d like to start from square one.
In the beginning, yoga had nothing to do with poses. In fact, the texts that form the foundation of yoga don’t even mention poses. They do talk a lot about mindset, meditation, and how to live a good life. Somewhere along the way, they decided it was important to talk about how to take care of their bodies. And they approached the care of their physical bodies in the same way they approached their spiritual pursuits: systematically. They called their system ayurveda.
Ayurveda means, quite literally, the science of life (ayur = life; veda = science or knowledge). Despite the fact that it is thousands of years old, ayurveda continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems. Much more than a system for treating illness, ayurveda offers a body of wisdom designed to help humans stay vibrant and healthy while aging and realizing their full potential.
Long before modern medicine provided scientific evidence for it, the mind-body connection was a guiding principle of ayurveda. While modern medicine is just catching on to the health benefits of meditation (a decrease in the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and an increase in “feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine), ayurvedic practitioners have been “prescribing” meditation for ages.
Ayurveda also offers many other practices for expanding self-awareness and cultivating an innate state of balance. These practices include when and what to eat, how to strengthen your digestive fire, when to sleep and when to wake, how to exercise, and how to live an easeful life. While the ayurvedic system is quite complicated, its approach is simple: align with the rhythms of nature rather than struggling against them. Cooperate with your body’s constitution rather than trying to force your will upon it.
Understanding how to apply this approach requires a certain amount of mindfulness – noticing what affects what in what way. While there are some universal practices, figuring out how to apply them in an intuitive and nourishing way takes time. So where do you start?
Ironically, most of us in the western world start developing mindfulness through the physical practice of yoga. When we step onto the mat, whether in a studio or at home, we create a space of heightened awareness. We tune out the outer world so that we can tune into our bodies. With regular practice, we are able to take that awareness off the mat and into the world, and that’s when the fun begins. We start to notice rhythms and relationships and interconnectedness. And we start to get curious about our part in all of it.
And THAT is the real yoga lifestyle: curiosity about and attentiveness to the connections we have within our selves, with others and with the world around us.
If you’re curious about yoga or ayurveda, come to my next Body Wisdom free talk on December 3rd or fill out the form below. I’d love to talk to you about your next step into the REAL yoga lifestyle.