Words by Emma Maidment, yoga & meditation teacher
What comes to your mind when someone mentions ‘yoga’? Do you think of bendy babes on a beach somewhere exotic with their legs around their ears? That seems to be the image we are constantly shown to be ‘yoga’. I know I’m guilty of taking photos like that! The thing is, yoga extends far beyond the physical. Did you know that you could not use your physical body at all and still have an experience of yoga? That’s because yoga is a state of being. And in this state of being, you are able to connect to the very essence of who you are. There are many ways to experience it that have nothing to do with how bendy your back is.
One of my favorite yoga teachings comes from the ancient Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” Meaning that whilst you might be in a room with others, or being guided by a teacher, it’s ultimately an experience for you and you alone.
You my friend are like an onion (a really clean, organic one), and like an onion you have many layers. Some of those layers are physical, some of them energetic but nevertheless these layers need to be peeled back in order for you to get to the truest expression of who and what you are.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuk’ and means ‘to yoke’; it's often translated as ‘union’. This ‘union’ can be experienced in a variety of different ways. Some of us prefer yoga asana (postures), others pranayama (breath work), or perhaps chanting, ritual or meditation practices are more your thing. Did you know the postures of yoga make up only one eighth of what the practice is all about!? It’s so vast in its abilities to peel back the layers, stories and conditioning that keep you from fully blooming into the truest expression of self.
You do not need to be able to touch your toes or put your leg behind your head to experience yoga. You just need to show up to a practice that is designed to connect you inwards. To hone your inner compass and ultimately give you an experience of yourself beyond just the physical layer.
I like to think of it as a bootcamp for your self-awareness. If you did an 8 week bootcamp chances are you'll strengthen some muscles… Yoga is much the same, but for your awareness (obviously you use your muscles too, but that’s a byproduct not the focus). By strengthening this awareness muscle, you become, well, more aware! But perhaps not in the way you may think. Have you ever had that experience where you are driving and you arrive at your destination and you think, ‘omg how did I even get here?’. Don’t worry, I’ve done it too. It’s because you, me and most of the population live our lives on autopilot rushing from A to B and not even really noticing how we got where we are. We are not living into the fullness of ourselves. We have become human doings, not human beings. Our yoga practices teach us to pause, to turn our attention inwards, to become intimately acquainted with ourselves and how we respond to stress. For example, the postures place the body under physical stress and we learn to breathe and shift in the experience to find calm. This practice teaches our minds and bodies how to respond to a situation consciously and calmly, rather than in reaction. You learn to show up fully as your truest self, and you learn to love that self beyond belief.
Sure, you can experience this by touching your toes, but you can also experience it by sitting quietly, meditating or breathing. Through yoga, there are so many ways to experience your ‘beingness’ and as a byproduct, start living into your fullest potential.
Emma Maidment is a yoga and meditation teacher, writer, presenter and co-founder of Flow States Studios, an online yoga, fitness and meditation studio. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @emmamaidment_ or subscribe via emmamaidment.com.