Bishnu Ghosh, the father of contemporary Hatha Yoga
I recently came across this article in the New York Times. Even though it’s about the sport of weightlifting, I couldn’t help thinking that everywhere the author writes “weightlifting” you could easily substitute the word “Yoga.” The article mentions the importance of a “solid, upright posture” and holding exercises for “30-60 seconds.” Sound familiar yet? It suggests that weightlifting, in spite of appearances, is not a “means to an end” but is, rather, a “transformative practice.” How about now?
What the author suggests is perhaps the most essential thing about weightlifting, and what is certainly one of the most essential things about Yoga, is how it encourages autonomy in the person who practices it. Unlike some expressions of autonomy—the kind we hear a lot about in the context of professional or financial success; the kind of autonomy that looks a lot like selfishness—here, it means something completely different. Both weightlifting and Yoga require of you and create in you an autonomy that breeds selflessness and humility. How? Both activities make you keenly aware of the direct correlation between the time and energy you put into them and the “progress” that you make as a result. Often this progress is invisible, imperceptible, or can even look like (or feel like) going backwards. But what do we (as good yogis) do? We get back on our mats again and again because we know the practice itself is the result—the real, felt progress.
By regularly practicing Yoga we do something that is simultaneously the best thing we can do for ourselves (we feel better, we move better, we breathe better) and something that is essentially a selfless act. We get no reward for the work we put in on the mat—except (and it’s a huge ‘except’) for the ability to continue and deepen our practice every day that we do it.
Have a look at the article and see if you can’t find some more parallels between these two ancient yet still popular forms of physical culture! Or perhaps you’ll find some similarities between a different sport you enjoy and your Yoga practice. As one of my teachers used to say, “Yoga is everywhere!”