Yoga is an ancient philosophical way of living your life that dates back 5000 years, yet, in our Western society, there are so many misconceptions about yoga and meditation. We have captured the physicality of yoga but perhaps the way that yoga is communicated, especially in the media, has failed to capture the essence of this approach to living your life.
The most insidious of these misconceptions is probably that you need to be flexible to do yoga, or that yoga is only for women, specifically skinny, white women (I also recognise the irony of me writing this as a white woman). Other misconceptions send the message that yoga is always expensive, that there are better and more advanced yoga poses than others, that yoga is only about stretching, that all yoga classes are slow, that yoga classes are only for young people and that the practice will automatically make you more relaxed.
With regards to meditation, the messaging seems even more unclear; meditation is about being still and quiet, there is only one way to meditate, meditation is about emptying the mind and not thinking. All these misconceptions are not the destination nor the journey of meditation.
However, I would argue that the most damaging to the roots of the ancient lineage of yoga that we in the West have privileged from is that yoga is just a fitness class and is only a physical experience. The experience of yoga permeates far beyond the physical experience and to ignore this is to ignore all the possible facets of life that you can experience.
If you have attended a yoga class or meditated, which I am sure you have if you are reading this, you will understand that the experience goes far beyond the physical. Many people, myself included, proclaim to have begun attending yoga classes for the possibility of the physical benefits and found themselves returning again and again for the well-being and mental effects as well as the undeniable sense of peace and ease that the practice helps to cultivate both on and off the mat.
The ancient yogis understood this reality of the human experience. They were aware of the physical, energetic, mental, intuitive, and spiritual experience and explained these states of consciousness or experience through the concept of the Koshas, or sheaths. The journey of the yogi is to explore and attain each layer of consciousness and all yogic practices facilitate this aim (you can learn more about the Koshas here).
Yoga and meditation are not about emptying the mind of thoughts, or numbing yourself from your feelings and emotions, or moulding and morphing your body into some ideal of perfection. Yoga is not about organising and controlling your life into flawlessness, or accepting and transcending the very real trauma that you might have experienced in your life, or absolving you of the memories or beliefs that might have shaped you. But rather, yoga is about embracing all of these facets of your life and cultivating a greater connection to yourself. As Rumi states:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Welcoming and entertaining all the facets of life is what life is truly about. A life without all the facets of life is a dulled life, a life lived by looking through the window at yourself experiencing life rather than experiencing life itself. What is life without the full spectrum of what it can offer you; the joy, the anger, and everything else in between.
Yoga is so much more than a physical experience and so is life. The gift of yoga is to facilitate us to take the journey to experience our own true nature and all that life has to offer us.
Are you ready to dive in?