What makes a great yoga class?
Whether I am a practitioner on my mat or the teacher at the front of the room, I am most satisfied when I take sanctuary in the present moment. As a teacher, this means having no other agenda than truly seeing and appreciating my students. As a practitioner, it means letting go of outcomes and allowing things to be exactly as they are. A Kripalu Yoga teacher’s mantra is “breathe, relax, feel, watch and allow.” The more I practice this strategy on the mat, the more I apply it to everything I encounter in my daily life and the happier I am.
The Western approach to yoga often is a lot like the approach to exercise. We want to touch our toes, or get stronger, be more flexible or reduce our stress. Yet the Sanskrit word for what we do when we roll out our mat is “Sadhana” which means “spiritual practice.” According to the ancient texts, the aim of yoga is fourfold: prosperity, pleasure, virtue and freedom. That sounds like a recipe for happiness to me.
I think of prosperity (in Sanskrit, Artha) in the sense of thriving. Webster’s definition is “to flourish, or grow in a vigorous way.” The poses of a yoga practice (Asana) are designed to compress and release vital organs and glands. A complete practice, comprised of backbends, side bends, forward bends, twists and inversions, keeps all body systems running optimally. In my experience, thriving on the inside leads to thriving on the outside.
My greatest pleasure comes from showing up for life, right here, right now, and yoga is how I train. I experience pleasure (Kama) by becoming more aware. Through meditation and breathing techniques (Pranayama) I train my mind to watch physical sensations, mind fluctuations and the movement of energy. As a result, I feel vitally aware, fully alive, solid and firm. B.K.S. Iyengar describes it this way, “When something happens, I am not thrown off course, and when nothing happens, I do not lose my way.”
The third aim of yoga is Dharma: adopting principles that teach us how to live in harmony with ourselves, with each other and the universe. Many of these ideas are what we learned in kindergarten — don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t envy. Some of them are ingenious. You want to be happy? Practice contentment (Santosha). Imagine, instead of waiting around for something outside of yourself to make you happy, adopting a conscious, methodical practice of being centered in balance, gratitude and delight. Why not try it? What have you got to lose?
Finally, the freedom the yogis speak of (Moksha) is ultimately liberation from ignorance of our true selves. It turns out, the ancients would say, that we’re way too hard on ourselves. Our suffering is optional. The universe is on our side and we were born to experience joy. Joy is our true nature. Joy is our birthright. Use yoga to peel away the layers of ignorance to reveal the jewel at the heart of the lotus, our divine spirit.
You don’t need to believe any of this in order to reap the benefits inherent in the practice of yoga. All you have to do is breath, relax, feel, watch and allow.
Sandy Cyrus is a Certified Kripalu Yoga teacher and the owner of Full Circle Yoga in Orono. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.MaineKripaluYoga.com.