Yoga is not exercise, but exercise is still righteousMarch 12, 2020
My practice has changed and ebbed and flowed throughout my lifetime with it. It started with a hot yoga class in freezing cold Winnipeg on a gross carpeted floor with a shirtless man sitting in the back of the class like it was a sauna watching the yoga show. I was mortified and didn’t return for awhile.
Then it was an overly incensed Jivamukti class where we roared like wild jungle animals and I almost passed out from the vigorous movements and breath work. I was intimidated by the teacher and was scared not to come. I wasn’t sure what we were doing but was intrigued by the process.
This was followed by a more white-washed version of yoga with anatomy as the central concern. I learned many of my arm balances here and my love with anatomy, intelligent sequencing and the body began.
Then it was Bikram in another hot yoga room but this time the energy was different. The teacher was skilled, the room was packed and energized and the vibe was good. I was promised a whole new body if I dived into their 30 day challenge so I dove right in. My challenges at this studio felt so good, the sweat was amazing but I didn’t feel or look like I had changed all that much. I didn’t get especially more flexible and I didn’t lose weight (my primary concern at the ripe age of 21).
While I played with various lineages of yoga, studios and teachers I also skied, ran, swam, surfed, did pilates, went to the gym and dabbled in crossfit. I’m a lover of movement. While I understood from the get-go that yoga was meant to be different from exercise I still treated it as such. I was there to stronger, leaner and more flexible.
I would do hot power yoga as a way to melt these two worlds. I could exercise and work on my spirituality – all in under 90 minutes – how perfect.
It took many years for me to understand what the practice could actually do for me. How it could change me. This evolved as I grew and matured both in my practice as well as my age. The more I experimented, studied, and practiced, the more the lessons started to take hold.
I could be a better person. I could be happier. I could serve the world. The body was just a tool. My spirit was always supreme and the light within me was more important than any physical goal I could possibly ever attain.
Like many yogis, I would fall in and out of love with my practice over the years. A new fitness program would emerge and peak my interest and yoga would be pushed aside for a bit happening only intermittently throughout the week. If I only had an hour a day to move I wanted to make sure I got a good sweat on. Sometimes even those hot power classes were not “enough.”
The more I faced my practice with this mentality – the less I loved it. It become less than. Not good enough. A performance. Entertainment. The further I stepped away from yoga – the worse I felt…….always. Because I was neglecting my spirit and my spirit is where joy comes from.
As a lover of movement I’ve learned to satisfy my cravings for sweat but I now balance it always with daily practice. I see them as two completely different but complimentary activities. I work out 3-4x a week and treat it as good solid exercise. I run, I lift weights, I take a fun fitness class. My workouts are for my pitta fiery nature. They are for my abs. For my butt. For my athletic pursuits. For my outdoor adventures. For my postpartum core strength I need after having children. They fuel me. They satisfy me and I just really like to sweat this way. They can be shallow, I can listen to party music or some loud heavy metal and sometimes that just feels so right.
But my practice…. is sacred. When I burn through my anxious and fiery nature through exercise I can fully enjoy and sit still in my practice (vigorous or not). I can appreciate fully what it actually is. I can connect to spirit, to the sacredness of ritual and breath and I can strengthen what really needs to be worked on…..
My heart. My soul. My spirit.
I remove any expectation of my practice to be my exercise. We all love to move for different reasons. We all practice yoga for different reasons. My practice always changes and evolves but right now this is the perfect balance for me. I have removed any trace of “exercise” from my practice. My practice is about awareness, love, healing and spirit. I still move, I still strengthen, I still sweat. But the intention is completely different. Sometimes I just breath for an hour in a single pose. The goal is not exercise. It’s to unite and become whole.
Notice if practice has become less appealing to you. Do you make physical goals your primary goal of yoga? How does that feel? What if joy was the goal? What if union and love was the goal? How would that feel?
Make your butt the goal of exercise and just enjoy that. Work on that butt. Run to burn calories and enjoy that. If you struggle with the need to turn your practice into exercise…. try exercising more! My commitment to practice yoga every day stays more true when I also add in exercise a few times a week. My daily practice is now non-negotiable. Its my route to joy.
With Grace and Grit,