Union in diversity

The word yoga means to yoke or bind and is it often interpreted as “union”: the union between the body, the mind, and the spirit. Therefore, this simple word englobes thousands of different practices and interpretations. Nowadays, Patanjali’s third limb of yoga, asanas, is practiced worldwide. It is the most visible and popular part of yoga, and even within this limb, there is a wide range of styles and variations.

When I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t know all the different currents and possibilities that exist out there. I just thought there was one type of yoga that was practiced in the same way everywhere.

Then, I heard of hatha yoga. Hatha is a term that refers to all physical postures of yoga that help us align, open the energetic channels, and balance the masculine and feminine elements of our body. Currently, most Hatha yoga classes are slow-paced and beginner-friendly.

Today everyone can find a yoga style that can suit their needs. For people who prefer slow-paced yoga, Hatha is the most common type but there are many more such as:

  • Iyengar yoga, in which postures are held longer to really focus on alignment and detail;

 

  • Yin yoga, in which mostly seated postures are held during long periods of time in order to target deep and rarely used tissues;

 

  • Restorative yoga, in which simple postures are practiced along with a large number of props to achieve a deep relaxation of the body and the mind.

 

On the other hand, for people who enjoy fast-paced classes, there are other styles such as:

  • Ashtanga yoga, a physically demanding style that follows a dynamic sequence of postures to attain flexibility and strength;

 

  • Vinyasa yoga, a style that derived from Ashtanga in which the movement is coordinated with your breath, flowing from one pose to another;

 

  • Bikram yoga or hot yoga is a sequence of 26 postures, each done twice in a heated room

 

  • Kundalini yoga, a style that prioritizes core and breathing exercises to release the kundalini energy in the body.

 

As I researched more, I realized that when I started practicing, I was doing Anusara yoga, a modern variation of Hatha influenced by Iyengar that focuses on alignment and heart-opening postures. The yoga world is everchanging and the possibilities are endless, it is up to us to find out what we are looking for and explore in order to integrate it into our own teaching.

From self-distancing to self-study

In response to the novel coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, more than 90 countries have compulsory or recommended confinements, curfews, and quarantines. This means that more than half the world’s population has been asked to stay at home by their governments.

This isolation and lack of human contact are the roots of serious emotional and psychological distress, especially in those who live alone. Long periods of confinement can cause frustration, stress, anxiety, irritability… We feel that we lost a significant part of our freedom, we miss our loved ones and we fear to fall sick. These measures are forcing us to change our habits, slow down the pace of our daily lives and activities, and confronting us to our own company.

Even if nowadays social media is a very powerful tool to connect people located on opposite sides of the world in a matter of seconds, physical and social contact are still crucial for our mental health because most of us are used to interact with multiple people during the day. What should we do when all the voices around us are silent? We have an opportunity to listen to our inner voice.

Confinement is indeed giving us an opportunity to practice Swadhyaya. Swadhyaya is the fourth of Patanjali’s Niyamas and it is the concept of self-study. Now more than ever we have the chance to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions that we often choose to ignore and define who we are, our qualities and weaknesses, and the impact we have on others. Practicing self-study through meditation and pranayama during these difficult times is especially important in order to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves and others.

The legacy of yoga

Yoga came into my life as a family heirloom. Everything started when my grandmother went to a gym and was introduced to a discipline that she had never heard before because it wasn’t as popular back then: yoga. She then decided to recommend it to my father as a way to exercise and relax from the stress of his job.

Around ten years ago when I was only eight, my father found a studio near our house which was one of the firsts studios in our city and completely fell in love with it. For years, he practiced once or twice a week religiously. It was a very important part of his life and it made a huge impact on his mood and behavior.

My first contact with yoga came in the form of a colorful book full of animals chanting OM and performing different asanas, and as I grew older, I started joining my dad at the studio every once in a while. At the time, yoga for me was a fun activity that I was able to share with my father, but it wasn’t a regular practice.

I was always the youngest in the class, but I was amazed by the strength, flexibility, and balance of the people who had been practicing for years. One of our teachers was a lady in her late sixties that was stronger and more flexible than everyone in the class.

Almost a decade later, we moved to Singapore and I decided to dust off my mat, wear the yoga pants in the family and challenge myself with this 200h YTT. I am still quite young but the more I practice, the more I realize that in yoga and in life, it’s more about discipline than given qualities and that everyone has their own pace.

Flexibility on and off the mat

My last year of high school was a very stressful year for me. Between tests, quizzes, final exams, university applications, and deciding what I wanted to do after graduation, I was constantly anxious thinking that if I made a mistake it would affect my future and my life permanently. At the time, I thought that if I worked really hard and designed a plan for every single step of my future, I would feel calm and in control.

However, I was proven wrong. Making plans is indeed necessary for all of us to define our goals and dreams in life and what we must do in order to achieve them, but at the end of the day, life is unpredictable. During the last couple of months, the world has dramatically changed in an unprecedented way and so did all the plans I had carefully crafted. This is how I learnt how important it is to be flexible not only physically but also mentally to be able to adapt to different circumstances and settings.

Santosha is the second of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga that roughly translates as contentment. It is an attitude of understanding and accepting oneself and one’s environment and circumstances as they come. This concept is not always easy to follow because we often tend to compare ourselves to others or rely on external factors in order to feel happy. During this period, I have been trying to detach myself from my plans and expectations of the future, live one day at the time, and feel grateful for everything that I have on and off the mat.