How is Yoga Different from Exercise

Feb 14th, 2017

As I continue to share yoga, I often encounter situations where I need to emphasize how yoga is different from exercise. Sometimes I am even asked point blank and defiantly as to how doing a back bend in yoga class makes it any different from doing it in the gym as part of routine work out, aren’t they both exercises, after all? I am reminded of an old video clip of David Swenson which I watched years back where he does a deep forward bend and asks : “Any gymnast can do this? So is every gymnast a yogi?”. He then shows a not so deep forward bend but shows immense absorption and breath awareness as he takes this posture and then says – the first scenario of deep forward bend may or may not be yoga, but the second scenario of deep absorption and breath awareness in the posture despite its lack of depth and even bent knees is yoga. I always use this example in my class.

I am grateful for the receptivity and openness of the participants in my class who have begun to appreciate this difference. They have begun to see yoga as a ‘work in’ and not a ‘work out’! I am sharing with you my thoughts which are influenced by the many teachers I have studied with and experience in my own practice.

Difference #1. When we practice yoga we are trying to bring the heart, mind and body into alignment in such a way that all three are focused on a single point, and not each running in a different direction. This creates integrity in our system. From being a crowd within we become an individual being. Now unity can prevail in the system. When the heart, mind and body run in different directions it makes us chaotic within and at a loss of yoga. And yoga means harmony. In the gym we could be listening to music, watching TV, chatting with friend and doing our back bend. This back bend cannot be called yoga because the body is doing the back bend but the mind is not doing the same thing, and the involvement of emotion is not known.

When we practice yoga we bring this alignment through our invocation. Each class opens with an invocation. An invocation is different from a prayer. A prayer is said to appeal to an external entity, an invocation is done to create a certain inner environment that is conducive to what we are engaged in. Our inner environment is different when we are at work, versus when we are with our children. For each situation a certain inner environment is more conducive. Personally in my classes how the yoga space, is created is also targeted towards creating a specific inner environment among participants. The sound of supportive music in the background, candle flame, flowers, a sense of quiet helps people to align to what is coming and adjust their inner environment.

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