(Note: This blog article was first published on an online internal magazine of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) where I work as an information officer.)
Let me first tell you how I came across yoga. It all began when a friend gave me a free pass to a week of yoga classes in Manila four years ago. I had always been curious about meditation and mindfulness ever since I started my journalism career. Being a journalist meant working on unpredictable days and constantly living at the receiving end of negative news. And so feeling my way towards some sense of balance was something I found essential. To my heart’s glee, I accepted my friend’s gift and headed to the yoga studio the next morning.
I started doing yoga with almost zero flexibility. I could not reach my toes nor hold the downward facing dog pose for longer than a minute. An hour and a half of yoga gave me a sore body for a week.
And yet, from that moment, I began to love it. It was calming and I felt refreshed and energized. I began to look forward to my next practice. The trial became a weekly pursuit. Two to three hours of my week would be spent in a yoga studio. And this interest in yoga grew to a committed daily habit. It had become a routine like a morning shower, something I felt uncomfortable to live without.
After deciding to quit journalism and take a long break last year, I found an opportunity to immerse in the yoga life in Mcleodganj, a hill station in Dharamshala in the Himalayan part of India, where the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile reside.
It was a month-long yoga teacher training course. Our days started with meditation and chanting at 5 in the morning, followed by six hours of lecture and practice. My classmates and I practically breathed yoga every day, following a strict vegetarian diet which included fruits and simple Indian dishes- chapatti, lentils, and curry with vegetables. There, we were guided through every pose and taught the physical and spiritual benefits that come with it. I learned more about yoga by practicing how to teach it.
I was surprised to find myself in tears by the end of our yoga training. It could be because of the realization that something so beautiful was about to end. And probably, it could also be because I felt truly happy within.
“What has yoga done to you?” A friend once asked in a get-together a few months after coming back from my travels. The question came so sudden that I was not able to provide an answer in full. And so, I am explaining it here.
Yoga and a healthy body
Yoga can be like any other forms of exercise. It is a physical activity that helps you sweat calories off. When done regularly, it can bring you to your ideal weight and help bring down blood pressure, boost the immune system, among other health benefits. But more so, since yoga brings your attention to your body, you begin to be mindful of the food you eat.
Every day, I practice a yoga sequence called Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). Apart from being a good fitness routine, it has become my way of expressing gratitude to the sun and bringing prana (energy) of the sun to my body. You would notice renewed vigor after practicing this. It is a sequence composed of 12 yoga poses, beginning and ending in a standing pose with palms together at the heart center.
Yoga and the mind
The practice of yoga is grounding. Every movement corresponds to one breath. It brings your awareness to your body right at the present moment. Often, I begin my practice with a series of breathing exercises to center my mind. And calm naturally follows. This comforting stillness allows me to listen to my body.
After a yoga practice, I can easily find the focus to do the important things and weed out distractions. I find my mind less cluttered with unnecessary thoughts. Most days are lived with joy and enthusiasm, wherever I am and whatever I do.
Yoga and spirituality
Many yoga practitioners are repulsed by the fact that yoga has become a billion-dollar industry. You’d have to deal with expensive yoga studio memberships, sexy yoga clothes, and celebrities doing fancy yoga poses on social media.
But essentially, yoga is an ancient practice that can be traced back to 10, 000 years ago in northern India. Yoga masters believe that our body is our channel to the divine and so yoga poses help keep our body, mind, and spirit aligned.
While “chakras” are not mentioned in most western yoga classes, they are at the core of every yogic practice. According to yoga texts, the body has seven chakras or energy centers that are responsible for the energy flow in the body. This might take a while to discuss in detail. But to put it in a nutshell, yoga poses are designed to unblock these chakras, allowing the smooth flow of energies. It explains why most people feel bursting with energy immediately after a yoga practice.
Yoga has changed the way I view life. While I am made aware of my posture and body alignment in my practice, the essence of yoga is the experience of expansion within. I get to be more connected to my inner self. When I feel grounded, balanced and still, I see life as it is – vibrant and ever-changing.
Photos by Aaron Aspi